Dalton McGuinty fails to accept the invitation from Grassy Narrows community members. Photo by Kevin Janos Konnyu
Tomorrow will be the final day of public events of the Grassy Narrows River Run, a week of events pressuring the Ontario government to take responsibility for the mercury poisoning which has impacted the community for the past 50 years. Members of the community have walked over 2000kms to Toronto raising awareness about the harmful effects of mercury in the English-Wabigoon river system as well as held a public speaking event and a traditional Fish Fry on the lawn of Queen’s Park. Tomorrow there will be a creative rally and march beginning at Grange Park (behind the Art Gallery of Ontario) at 12pm.
On Tuesday night, Grassy Narrows elder Robert Keesik and his daughter Judy Da Silva spoke about how mercury was dumped, with permission from the province, in the river system on which they relied for fish and for jobs (commercial fishing). The following day at noon, Grassy Narrows community members held a traditional fish fry, serving fish brought down from the river in Grassy Narrows territory. It was a public event to which several Ontario politicians were cordially invited.
The question: Will they eat the fish?
The fish fry took place on the lawn of Queen’s Park, with a head table set up for Grassy Narrows mothers and elders, members of the Mississaugas of New Credit, and Premier Dalton McGuinty, Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci, and Minister of Environment Jim Bradley. None of those ministers showed up.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Kathleen Wynne came and spoke to community members, but did not sit at the head table with community members and eat the fish. NDP member Sarah Campbell and MPP for Kenora-Rainy River sat at the table. APTN covered the Fish Fry.
Although the mercury was dumped into the river system 50 years ago, community members say that “nothing has changed.” For that reason, they demand that the Province acknowledge and apologize for the contamination, ensure the safety of the community by cleaning up the river and strengthen mercury safety guidelines, clean up the river, and adequately compensate the community. A full list of demands is below.
At the public speaking event Dr. Hanada, a Japanese scientist and expert in the health impacts of mercury, spoke about the similar struggles against corporate irresponsibility in Japan and in Northern Ontario. He shed light on the ongoing health impacts—effects in mobility and birth defects. Judy Da Silva affirmed this by telling the audience that children in Grassy Narrows have been born with cancer in their brains.
The neurological symptoms of mercury poisoning are referred to as Minimata disease, named after the fishing community of Minimata, Japan where the first cases of mercury poisoning were noticed. Individuals diagnosed with Minimata disease in Japan were paid $800,000 US for compensation, while those in Grassy Narrows who were given compensation were given only $1200. Additionally, only a small percentage of people in Grassy Narrows who Dr. Harada (another leading expert in Minimata disease) and Dr. Hanada diagnosed with Minimata disease were actually recognized by the Mercury Disability Board as eligible for compensation.
A recently released report by Dr. Harada says that the impacts of mercury poisoning are still rampant in Grassy Narrows, meaning that it is time that justice is brought to the community. For more information, visit FreeGrassy.net.
Council of Canadians is part of a coalition of groups supporting the Grassy Narrows River Run including individuals as well as Earth Justice Action: Supporting Indigenous Land Defense, No One Is Illegal-Toronto, EarthRoots, Greenpeace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the Student Christian Movement. We are also a signatory on the public statement released this past Tuesday in support of Grassy Narrows demands for justice.
Grassy Narrows and their supporters are demanding that government:
RESPONSIBILITY: Acknowledge mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows, apologize, and accept responsibility to fix what was broken.
SAFETY: Fund a permanent Grassy Narrows run environmental health monitoring center. Strengthen Health Canada mercury safety guideline to protect all people
COMPENSATION: Compensate all people diagnosed by the Japanese doctors, and retroactively index the compensation to inflation.
RESTORATION: Clean and restore the English-Wabigoon river system. Stop the mills from polluting the water and air.
JUSTICE: Restore Grassy Narrows control over Grassy Narrows Territory. End destructive industrial logging on Grassy Narrows