December 28, 2002
GRASSY NARROWS FIRST NATION UPDATE: November 24 --
November 24, Sunday
Diana Epp-Fransen and Matt Schaaf leave Winnipeg for
Grassy Narrows First Nation (GNFN) -- a 4-hour drive in
bad weather -- to accompany a blockade of logging
trucks planned for the following day. Previous visits
from CPT since May 1999 resulted in a strong
relationship with the Grassy Narrows Environmental
Committee and led to an invitation to CPT to observe
direct actions to defend the community's land base
against pulp and paper giant Abitibi Consolidated.
The previous week, community member Joe Fobister sent
a letter to Abitibi demanding a cessation of
clear-cutting operations on traditional hunting
grounds. Monday was set as a deadline for a response
from the corporation.
November 25, Monday
No response to Joe Fobister's letter from Abitibi.
Community members plan a four-day ground blessing
ceremony to celebrate their traditions and prevent
logging trucks from hauling timber out of the forest.
Schaaf speaks with Ian Davidson-Hunt of the Taiga
Institute in Kenora. Barriers to aboriginal
communities who want to enter the forestry industry
include racism, the need for a lot of start-up
capital, a lot of experience and specific skills. The
Ontario government has for the most part excluded
First Nations from decisions about "forest
November 26, Tuesday
Epp-Fransen returns to Winnipeg on the bus. Schaaf
introduces CPT to the local teachers at a staff
meeting. The principal, Sister Irene Freeman, shares
that she plans to exempt the high school students from
classes to participate in the ground blessing ceremony
planned by community elders.
Joe Fobister learns that his letter is still on his
lawyer's desk -- Abitibi hasn't received it yet. He
shows Schaaf satellite photos of the clear-cuts that
reveal vast areas of destroyed animal habitat to the
north of the community.
November 28, Thursday
Community members prepare for action, cutting tipi
poles and planning the ceremony for the coming Monday.
Schaaf slides off icy roads on his way to the nearest
city of Kenora and narrowly misses upending his truck
into a freezing lake. In town, former Mennonite
Central Committee workers Ren Amell and Carol Loeppky
share their long experience in the Kenora area.
People are afraid of losing funding to their
single-industry logging town because their provincial
representative is a member of the opposition. Member
of Parliament (federal representative) and Minister of
Indian Affairs and Northern Development (IAND) Robert
Nault represents financial security because he is a
At a previous meeting, Schaaf learned that Nault
recently broke process and walked away from
self-government talks with Treaty 3 (Northwestern
Ontario) First Nations, leaving native leaders
frustrated and empty-handed.
A friend who grew up in Kenora says, "White loggers
share a certain sympathy with native communities
because they know what it's like to live under the
thumb of the company. They are both underdogs, but
there is a lot of racism."
November 29, Friday
Schaaf accompanies community members as they scout a
location for their camp and blockade. While in the
bush, one man collects firewood for his stove at home.
According to the Ontario government, this is an
illegal act because the trees have been licensed to
Abitibi. Treaty 3, however, guarantees Anishanaabe
people access to the forest.
November 30, Saturday
Schaaf visits with Simon Fobister, chief of Grassy
Narrows. Fobister had not yet taken a position on the
Roger Fobister, the only Grassy Narrows resident
employed by Abitibi, invites Schaaf into his porch and
shares that he will remain neutral during the blockade
and ceremony. He receives occasional tree-thinning
and tree planting contracts from the company, enough
to employ eight men from the community.
Former chief Steve Fobister, Sr. hopes to build a
sweatlodge and a teaching lodge at the blockade.
December 1, Sunday
Schaaf accompanies community members as they collect
firewood. They defy the Ministry of Natural Resources
to exercise their treaty right to live off their
A backhoe clears a space in the bush where the camp
will be set up.
December 2, Monday
Camp organizers send a press release to the media and
pitch camp -- a trapper's cabin and a tipi.
December 3, Tuesday
A school bus drops off about 30 high school students
and their teachers at camp. The youth stand and lie in
the roadway as the first logging truck approaches, and
the driver is turned back. He reacts angrily but
leaves the scene peacefully.
Community members allow loggers to leave the forest,
but block any trucks headed to pick up more trees.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) arrive and announce
that as soon as the sergeant arrives from Kenora,
people must leave. The students joke with the officers
and soon everyone is getting along.
Logging contractor Jim Ambs arrives and fumes, "This
is just trouble. I just go where I'm told. Talk to the
company." Community members angrily tell Ambs that his
logging operation is illegal and ask him to leave.
Sergeant Bob Reid of the OPP arrives and announces
that the protest is legal under the Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms. As long as the demonstration
remains peaceful, the police will not intervene.
December 4, Wednesday
Schaaf becomes sick while sleeping at camp and returns
to the community. The next morning, he learns that the
loggers sent one pickup truck as a scout.s The driver
turned back before reaching the blockade and no
haulers attempted to use the road.
The Band Council of Grassy Narrows announces its
unanimous support of the blockade. Treaty 3 Grand
Chief Leon Jourdain visits the camp to lend his energy
and encourage the youth to endure the cold weather so
that their children and grandchildren will have a
forest in which to thrive.
CPT reservist Korey Dyck (Winnipeg) gets to camp.
Schaaf and Dyck share a meal of fresh venison with
some of the teachers.
December 5, Thursday
Full-time CPT member Scott Kerr arrives from Chicago
with Chris Brown.
Dyck returns to Winnipeg.
December 6, Friday
Brown remains at the camp while Kerr and Schaaf make
the one-and-a-half-hour trip into Kenora for supplies.
Returning at about 7 pm, their car rolls into a creek.
Both escape unhurt and emerge soaked to the skin in
the minus 15 degrees Celsius weather, but are picked
up almost immediately by the chief's son on his way
back to Grassy Narrows.
December 7, Saturday
All quiet at the blockade. Kerr and Schaaf salvage
belongings from the wrecked car.