Grassy Narrows blockade
by David Ball & Jerry Stein
One week after the Ontario government threatened to halt maintenance of a back
road used for wild rice and berry harvesting, fishing, hunting, and trapping,
members of Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwest Ontario community are
renewing their eight-year blockade to assert their territorial rights.
Led by grassroots women from the Anishinabek community since 21 August, the
blockaders have prevented Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) from
interfering with their work crew, whom the MNR visited three times last week
and ordered to purchase a gravel permit.
The MNR representatives also issued a stop work order, citing
environmental, public and worker safety concerns. This action continues the longest blockade in Canadian
history, which since 2002 has worked to stop clear-cut logging on Grassy
Narrows territories and has raised concerns about the government’s lack of
action on mercury poisoning in the community.
“We have our own government
here,” said Robert Keesick, capital projects manager for Grassy Narrows First
Nation and the person responsible for the road maintenance contract. “We have our own way of dealing with
the environment, of taking care of our workers. This is our territory, so we have the right to use the
“We support our chief and council
– they are the authority here.
They received their jurisdiction when they signed the treaty. All we’re doing is fixing a road that was
there already, and yet [MNR is] not doing anything about the mercury in the
river,” he added.
A sign across the blockaded road reads “Ministry of No Respect: Keep Out,” and
community members are maintaining a twenty-four-hour presence at Slant Lake,
just outside the reserve, allowing only non-MNR traffic to pass.
So far, the government has not challenged the blockade, even though the
blockaders turned back a conservation officer on the first day. The MNR expressed concerns to local
media about damage to a beaver pond (where Grassy Narrows contractors are
repairing washouts), beaver damage to back-roads on the First Nations
traditional territories, as well as worker and public safety issues. Community members, however, consider
the government’s actions harassment and an infringement on their treaty rights.
“When they talk about environmental concerns or workers’ safety, it’s like they
think we’re dumb,” said Roberta Keesick, one of the community members active in
the blockade. “Of course we think
about this stuff too, otherwise we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have lasted
“The funny thing is that MNR is saying they’re concerned about a beaver pond,
but the government pays people to kill beavers because they call them ‘nuisance
beavers,’ because they’re wrecking the roads. Their quibbling over a beaver pond is contradictory. We don’t need a permit; we already got
permission from the Creator,” she added.
Christian Peacemakers Teams (CPT) as well as other supporters have joined the
“All this is towards our sovereignty, it’s about the same thing as other
Aboriginal struggles,” Roberta Keesick said. “We hope others will feel less intimidated nor feel they
have to get permits and permission.
Lots of people feel they can’t fight it. When we do our blockade, we hope it opens people’s eyes to
who they are as Aboriginal and Anishinabek.”
Grassy Narrows members use the back road they are maintaining to access
hunting, trapping, wild rice and berry harvesting areas, and for access to a
fishing lodge at Ball Lake, rights enshrined under Treaty 3. The Ontario government granted the
fishing lodge to the First Nation as part of compensation for mercury pollution
in 1986, and stopped maintaining the road following the Slant Lake blockade
begun in 2002. The community is
calling for support from allies elsewhere to defend the Earth and Indigenous
Call the MNR Kenora office to express your support for the people of Grassy
Narrows: (807) 468-2501
Some points to make:
1. The government should stop harassing construction crews repairing the
road to Ball Lake Lodge.
2. Thousands of people are watching and supporting Grassy Narrows. This issue will not go away until there
3. Grassy Narrows has the right to determine what happens on their
territory, according to Treaty 3. CPT supports them in their decisions.
4. CPT constituents also support Grassy Narrows’ call to end clear-cut
logging, for justice on issues of mercury pollution and other contaminants, and
for the sovereignty granted them by the Creator since time immemorial.