Aboriginal Justice: What Shall We Drink?



Aboriginal Justice - Contaminated English RiverChris Sabas joined CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team in 2011.  She is the first Iranian national to complete CPT’s training and serve full time in the Peacemaker Corps.  Her current home base is New York, USA.

Sweet, precious, clean, clear water: without it, the fragile human experiment would quickly cease to exist.  With convenience stores and 24-hour access to plastic-sealed Swiss Alps freshness, it is hard to imagine a time or a place where this basic staple is beyond our reach.

Can we even fathom the despair gripping the ancient Hebrews, who, upon departure from the parted Red Sea, encountered bitter water in the wilderness of Marah?  Complaining to Moses, they exclaimed, “what shall we drink!?” (Exodus 15:24).  Miraculously, the water became sweet, and civilization continues to this day, with apparent unlimited fresh water.

Enter 17-year-old Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation’s youth Edmond Jack.  He and five other Grassy Narrows youth made a 2,000-kilometer trek on foot, from their reserve north of Kenora to Toronto, to learn about the value of water from elders across the province. 

Between 1962 and 1970, the Dryden paper mill, then owned by Reed Paper, dumped almost ten tons of mercury into the English River.  In 1986, Grassy Narrows and neighbor, Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nation, shared $16.6 million in compensation for   the contamination that flowed through their reserves and traditional territories.

Significant health impacts are evident among Grassy Narrows community members to this day.  Some were born with congenital abnormalities and many more suffer from symptoms associated with mercury poisoning including tingling, loss of balance, hearing and walking difficulties, tremors and tunnel vision.  Complications include diabetes, thyroid problems and strokes.  Recent studies show that 44% of people born after the contamination presented one or more of the described symptoms.

Jack and the others also want to raise awareness, particularly among the youth throughout the province, of the legacy of the chemical poisoning.  Water contamination is one of the countless ways that Grassy Narrows and other Indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced the devastating impacts of environmental destruction on their sovereign territory caused by corporations and governments.

The walkers arrived in Toronto for “River Run 2012,” a week of events and actions organized by community leaders from Grassy Narrows that highlighted the impacts of mercury poisoning and culminated with a large march and rally on 8 June.  A dozen CPTers played key support roles throughout the week of activities serving as drivers, cooks, and volunteers.  


This year marks the 50th anniversary since the poisoning of the Grassy Narrows people began through the contamination of their river.  They are demanding justice because they are still dealing with the ongoing health impacts of this avoidable disaster.  They are sounding the alarm that this poison will affect everyone if we don’t stand together to protect our water.

Please take action.  Tell Ontario  Premiere  Dalton McGuinty that you support justice for Grassy Narrows and protection for water everywhere.

See https://goo.gl/5P5E4 for details.

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