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LAND CLAIMS IN GRASSY NARROWS FIRST NATION

Members of Grassy Narrows First Nation say Ontario’s logging plans adversely affect forests in their community and worsen the mercury poisoning issues their citizens have been grappling with for decades.

Between 1962 and 1970, Dryden Chemicals Inc., a paper mill, dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon River with the permission of the Province of Ontario. A recent newly translated Japanese study reveals that the disturbing health impacts of mercury poisoning on the health of Grassy Narrows people are still rampant 50 years after the contamination of their river began.

Dr. Masazumi Harada, the Japanese scientist who conducted the study, indicates that 79% of the people he tested in 2002 and 2004 had or may have had Minimata disease. This chronic neurological condition has affected three generations of Grassy Narrows people. Minimata disease is a condition arising from exposure to methyl-mercury, it causes:

  • tremors
  • tunnel vision
  • impaired hearing and speech
  • loss of muscular coordination
  • loss of sensation in the extremities

For several years, the governments of Ontario and Canada have been arguing about the results of the study and have yet to take responsibility for dumping the mercury. The federal government has said that mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows is, “under control.” In August 2013, the Ontario government stated, “we have a positive and respectful dialogue with the community and we’ll maintain this going forward.”  On November 3, 2013, Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Simon Fobister stated that, “Ontario and Canada continue to ignore us with devastating consequences for our people and our land.”

Despite the objection and lack of free, prior and informed consent from Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Ontario government continue to be in the midst of approving 10-year forest management plan of the forest in their territory that includes dozens of clear cuts. The First Nation says scientific studies indicate that clear-cut logging in boreal watersheds raises mercury levels in fish above the Health Canada limit for safe human consumption.  

Ontario’s forestry policies and practices have long been a concern for Grassy Narrows. They have spent nearly 15 years in court fighting the Ontario government’s decision to issue a licence for clear-cut operations in parts of the Keewatin portion of Treaty 3 territory. In March 2013, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that “the province has the right to take up treaty land for forestry and mining” (see more at: Keewatin case). Grassy Narrows is appealing this decision at the Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal hearing scheduled to take place on May 15, 2014. Viewing the Ontario Court of Appeal decision as a major disappointment, First Nations in Ontario support Grassy Narrows appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Grassy Narrows has issued a Mercury Action Alert asking for support to ask the government to Ontario to:

  • take swift and decisive action to resolve the ongoing legacy of mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows
  • cancel the new plans for another decade of clearcut logging on Grassy Narrows territory
  • ban clearcut logging which adds mercury to local lakes and rivers
  • acknowledge (with Canada) the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows and lower the safety guidelines for exposure to mercury  

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