Grassy Narrows logging suspended during possible appeal
In August 2011, an Ontario Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Grassy Narrows First Nation (Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek), by deciding that the government of Ontario does not have the power to take away the rights in Treaty 3 by authorizing development including logging and mining.
The Ontario Court of Appeal is considering an appeal of Keewatin versus the Ministry of Natural Resources case. While that appeal is being considered, the government of Ontario has agreed to suspend logging north of the English River.
This legal battle has continued for 11 years. The Grassy Narrows First Nation feels it is likely the matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Are clearcuts still planned for the Grassy Narrows area?
Grassy Narrows is concerned that the province still has plans to proceed with large clearcuts in the Treaty #3 community’s traditional territory. In December 2011, the new Whiskey Jack Long Term Management Direction (LTMD) was released, without any support from the Grassy Narrows community. In the LTMD, large clearcuts are called for in the community’s territory north and south of the English River over the next 10 years.
“The government is beginning to recognize that it is wrong to allow logging in our territory against our will,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister. “But Ontario continues to make plans behind our backs for destructive clearcut logging on the lands we have always used and cared for. This must stop.”
“This document was developed without our participation or consent, and entirely outside the good faith negotiations we have undertaken with MNR since the 2008 Process Agreement,” said Chief Simon Fobister. “It sets the stage for more clearcutting throughout our traditional lands, contrary to our Treaty and inherent rights. And we have not given our consent.”
The LTMD is part of a Forest Management Plan the Ministry of Natural Resources plans to put into effect on April 1.
Why is the Grassy Narrows First Nation so against clearcuts?
The Grassy Narrows First Nation has good reason to distrust pulp and paper companies as well as the province and federal government.
Back in the 1950′s, Ontario Hydro built two major dams at Ear Falls and Whitedog, causing significant and unpredictable fluctuations in water levels which affected wild rice beds, the habitat of fur-bearing animals and the local fishery for the Grassy Narrows’ people.
In the 1960′s the Canadian Government moved their community to a near-by area that was accessible by road, in order to provide the people with Governmental services. This included a school, which allowed the children of the Grassy Narrows to stay in their community, rather than being relocated to residential schools.
The people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation have long had issues with the lumber companies in their area dating back to 1970 when they experienced mercury poisoning from Dryden Chemical Company, a chloralkali process plant, located in Dryden, Ontario that supplied both sodium hydroxide and chlorine used in large amounts for bleaching paper during production for the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. Dryden Chemical company discharged their effluent into the Wabigoon-English River system. An estimated 20,000 pounds of mercury entered the river system.
Due to the high level of mercury in the waterway, the Ontario provincial government initially told the First Nation communities to stop eating fish — their main source of protein — and closed down their commercial fishery. Closing of the commercial fishery meant economic disaster for the Native Reserve – the employment rate plummeted from 90% to 10%.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation received a settlement in 1985 (15 years after the poisoning) from the Canadian government and the Reed Paper Company that bought-out the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company and its sister-company Dryden Chemical Company, but the mercury was never removed from the water.
Until 2008, Grassy Narrows land was being logged by Weyerhaeuser and AbitibiBowater. That logging was opposed by the Grassy Narrows First Nation. On 2006 February 7, the Nation sent a cease and desist letter to Abitibi and Weyerhaeuser saying:
“For many years our people have suffered from a forced industrial invasion of our forest homeland. Our forests have sustained us for thousands of years, but industrial exploitation of these once rich forests, lakes and rivers has poisoned our waters with mercury and other toxins, nearly eliminating our ability to practice our way of life, and robbed us of economic opportunities. We are not consenting to the clear-cutting of our traditional lands, which is an assault on our culture, our way of life, and indeed our very existence. Leave us alone, let us use our land how we want to use it, let us feed our people how we want to feed them, and then our people will become strong again.”
On September 8, 2007, Ontario announced that it had agreed to begin discussions with Grassy Narrows First Nation on forestry-related issues. The Ontario government appointed former Federal Court of Canada Chief Justice Frank Iacobucci to lead these discussions. Iacobucci’s discussions with Grassy Narrows was to focus on, “sustainable forest management partnership models and other forestry-related matters, including harvesting methods, interim protection for traditional activities and economic development.”
On February 27, 2008, Boise Inc. released a statement that they would abide by the wishes of Chief Fobister and would no longer purchase wood from the Traditional Use Area of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.
“Addressing longstanding concerns raised by northwest Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and a coalition of allies, Boise Inc. has notified logging company AbitibiBowater that it will cease purchasing wood fiber logged from Grassy Narrows’ traditional territory in the Whiskey Jack Forest without the Indigenous community’s consent.”
In May, 2008, the Grassy Narrows First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Both parties were agreeing to engage in a process to find ways to protect and manage the community’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows was optimistic about the beginning of this new relationship, but they were not yet ready to lift their moratorium on clear-cutting within their traditional territory.
Also in 2008, AbitibiBowater (now Resolute Forest Products) surrendered their harvesting license in the Grassy Narrows area.
Grassy Narrows first had their case heard in the Ontario Supreme Court in October, 2009. Their case was based on the treaty signed in 1873 that gave the First Nation hunting and trapping rights except on land that the federal government used. Grassy Narrows was asking the court to determine if that treaty authorized the province to log.
Dr. Masazumi Harada, a world renowned mercury poisoning specialist from Japan, has studied the impact of the 20,000 pounds of mercury the Dryden paper mill dumped into the Wabigoon River in the 1970′s. In 2010, he released his research showing that not only had the effects of the mercury poisoning not gone away, the health impacts of mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows people are worse now than in the 1970′s. In 1975, Dr. Harada found mercury levels in some Grassy Narrows people were over 3 times the Health Canada limit, and levels were 7 times the limit were found in White Dog. When he visited again in 2002 and in 2004, 43% of his patients from 1975 were dead, including including every patient who had mercury levels above the Health Canada guidelines in 1975 (50 ppm). The mercury poisoning has resulted in high numbers of people with Minamata Disease. Symptoms include a loss of sensation in extremities, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), tremors, impaired hearing, speech, and tunnel vision.
In April 2011, Grassy Narrows and the province of Ontario reaffirmed their commitment to working together by signing another memorandum of understanding that built upon the framework decided upon in 2008.
In August 2011, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decided the Government of Ontario does not have the power to take away the rights in Treaty 3 by authorizing development including logging and mining.
English River logging suspended during court battle (Free Grassy Narrows)
Logging banned as appeal considered (Chronicle Journal)
Large clearcuts planned for Grassy Narrows territory (Wawatay News Online)
Grassy Narrows Rejects MNR’s “Long Term Management Direction” for the Whiskey Jack Forest (Free Grassy Narrows)
Long-term study on the effects of mercury contamination on two indigenous communities in Canada (1975-2004) – Dr. Harada’s scientific report
Fact Sheet – Mercury Poisoning of the Grassy Narrows and White Dog Communities
Mercury Still Killing in Grassy Narrows (Press Release)
Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Wikipedia)
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