Grassy Narrows First Nation sues government 

The Ontario and Canadian governments have failed to protect the water in First Nations community and neglected to clean up mercury poisoning decades later
Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle leads the community to Queens Park to serve Ontario Premier Doug Ford
Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle leads the community to Queens Park to serve Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Image from Free Grassy Facebook page

After decades of facing continued neglect and environmental racism at the hands of the Ontario provincial government and Canadian federal government, on Tuesday 4 June, Chief Rudy Turtle of the Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek First Nation (Grassy Narrows) served Ontario Premier Doug Ford as part of a lawsuit regarding the mercury poisoning of their community. 

The mercury poisoning and contamination of the river that flows through Grassy Narrows is not new, it stems from a paper mill in Dryden, Ontario who dumped over 9 tonnes of mercury into the water throughout the 1960s and 70s. Mercury has since been building up in the fish, and as community members consume the fish, the toxins are passed to them. Over 90% of the Grassy Narrows community now suffers from symptoms of mercury poisoning, including tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction.

At the press conference, Chief Rudy Turtle demanded accountability, after governments have violated Treaty 3 by failing to protect the English-Wabigoon River system and neglecting to remedy the damages. “Time and again the government has chosen to prioritize corporate profits at our expense. Our mercury nightmare should have ended long ago, but it has been longer and worse because of the government’s failure to live up to its obligations.” 

Grassy Narrows grandmother and the community’s environmental health co-ordinator Judy Da Silva noted that “For any nonnative community, they are compensated and emergency measures [are instated] to fix the problem. It is no surprise to me, but we as Indigenous people always have to take it to the limit to be taken seriously. How many times do I have to say this? Grassy Narrows people are dying, the children have mercury induced autoimmune disease, stomach problems, bad skin conditions, and emotional issues.”

The University of Western Ontario published a new study last month suggesting that the river’s contamination is actually getting worse. The continued pollution of Dryden Paper Mill’s wastewater, although it no longer contains mercury, is compounding with the existing levels that have not been cleaned up to create methylmercury – an even more toxic compound. 

Let us pray that the governments of Ontario and Canada grant Grassy Narrows the justice and compensation that they deserve. Pray for strength for the Indigenous organizers as they walk this long road to justice

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