Silver Lining: Mennonite Group Awards Canadian First Nations Activist With Peace Prize
As Canada’s First Nations people battle oil and logging industries that have dumped over 20,000 pounds of mercury into their Wabigoon River, an international peace award given to one of their own is painting a silver lining into their struggle.
Grassy Narrows resident Judy Da Silva traveled to Germany this week to accept an international peace award from the German Mennonite Peace Committee for her work against an aggressive Canadian logging industry threatening to preserve native land.
She accepted the award on May 20 at the Benedictine monastery of St. Peters in Freiburg, Germany. The award is designed to acknowledge those who have worked for peace, while also promoting dialogue among religions.
“We want to award the prize to Judy Da Silva in order to honor the nonviolent resistance of the Grassy Narrows First Nation against the destruction of nature and for the preservation of their Indigenous culture,” Lorens Theissen van Esch of the German Mennonite Peace Committee said in a press release.
Da Silva was first introduced to the German Mennonite Peace Committee during their visit to Ontario’s Grassy Narrows, located roughly 370 miles north of Thunder Bay. The visit was done in partnership with Christian Peacemaker Teams, allowing the German chapter an inside look at the hardships facing First Nations people.
Da Silva has emerged as a leader in Canada for her efforts leading to blockade against logging companies encroaching on tribal lands that lasted over 10 years. In December, Mint Press News highlighted the success of that blockade aimed at protecting Grassy Narrows rivers from pollution at the hands of a persistent logging company, Dryden Mill.
During the 10-year blockade, the Anishinaabe community gathered regularly near the front of the hand-built blockade to hold peaceful gatherings. It began when widespread pollution was detected in the Wabigoon River, which flows through Grassy Narrows. The people of Grassy Narrows estimate that the Dryden Mill dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury in the river over the years.
The people of Grassy Narrows say that without protest, their land is vulnerable to a logging industry they no longer trust. The Ontario Superior Court ruled in favor of Grassy Narrows, claiming their blockade was justified through protection of their land, citing the treaty of 1873 that granted First Nations people the right to protect their land for hunting and fishing.
Logging companies like Weyerhaeuser have continued to attempt to access the Grassy Narrows land, but have been met with peaceful First Nations opposition.
At the heart of this movement is Da Silva.
“Judy was an excellent candidate for this award as she devotes her free time and her life to living her values as a protector of our natural environment,” Lucille McKenzie, councilwoman of Grassy Narrows, said in a press release. “All Judy’s hard work has been instrumental in protecting the natural environment of Grassy Narrows and our people.”
In Germany, Da Silva is scheduled to speak throughout the country about the plight of the Grassy Narrows First Nations people, promoting a boycott of the Weyerhaeuser Corporation that continues to try to access First Nations land for logging purposes.
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