(MintPress) – A Canadian Anishinaabe community is celebrating the success of a blockade that has kept logging companies from extracting resources from their land. It’s a victory that began 10 years ago, when members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation tribe created a blockage to halt the transport of equipment needed for the industry to harvest their trees. […]
(MintPress) – A Canadian Anishinaabe community is celebrating the success of a blockade that has kept logging companies from extracting resources from their land. It’s a victory that began 10 years ago, when members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation tribe created a blockage to halt the transport of equipment needed for the industry to harvest their trees.
The blockade was created following widespread contamination of Grassy Narrows rivers — the source was linked to Dryden Mill, which is alleged to have dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon River, which flows downstream through First Nations land of Grassy Narrows, Wabaseemoong and Wabauskang, according to a 2010 press release. While the contamination was discovered in the 1970s, the effects are still seen today in the local population, resulting in deaths and illnesses, including cerebral palsy, in their children.
When the blockade, located about 370 miles northwest of Thunder Bay, was created in 2002, it was initially met with opposition by local law enforcement officials, although their presence and opposition faded in the midst of peaceful indigenous gatherings near the makeshift log blockade.
For 10 years, the people of Grassy Narrows have persisted in their peaceful gatherings near the blockade, holding dear to their traditions while inciting hope among one another.
“The clear-cutting of the land is an attack on our people,” Roberta Keesick, a Grassy Narrows blocker, grandmother and trapper, said in a statement provided to MintPress. “The land is the basis of who we are. Our culture is a land-based culture, and the destruction of the land is the destruction of our culture.”
Victory, in courts and on land
In 2011, the blockade victory for Grassy Narrows took on a new identity, as Ontario’s Superior Court ruled in its favor, claiming the land and, specifically, timber on Grassy Narrows land, was protected from outside provincial permission to the logging industry. Their blockade was justified through the courts.
The high court ruling was founded in the treaty of 1873, which granted First Nations people the “right to pursue their avocations of hunting and fishing throughout the tract surrendered.” The logging industry threatened this directly.
Justice Mary Sanderson, who handed down the ruling, recognized this. She indicated the province of Ontario did not have the authority to issue permits to the forestry — or any other potentially damaging — industry for First Nations lands, according to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.
Since that time, leading logging companies that had attempted to operate in the region have given up their fight. Boise-Cascade announced it would fold to the campaign, eliminating its clear cutting plans for the Grassy Narrows region, along with AbitibiBowater, now Resolute Forest Products.
Weyerhaeuser, however, continues to pursue timber in Grassy Narrows, attempting to persuade the Grassy Narrows community to allow access to their lands.
“Weyerhaeuser supports ongoing processes designed to bring about resolution of outstanding issues on the Whiskey Jack forest,” the company said in a statement. “Weyerhaeuser has successfully worked with other First Nations in the region to establish the cooperative forest license on the Kenora Forest, including First Nations as shareholders.”
Yet the people of Grassy Narrows aren’t interested in shares. For them, it’s about the protection of their traditions, which largely include living off of the land — a right that is protected through federal treaties.
“Weyerhaeuser and the McGuinty government don’t want us on the land, they want us out of the way so they can take the resources. We can’t allow them to carry on with this cultural genocide,” Keesick said.
That’s a sentiment felt by First Nations people around Canada, who took note of the Grassy Narrows action and began to embark on similar actions of their own.
“The Grassy Narrows blockade shows that a First Nations community can stand up to the world’s largest newsprint company and win through their perseverance, faith and effective alliance building,” David Sone, a Grassy Narrows supporter, told MintPress through a statement.
“They are at the forefront of a growing movement where First Nations across Canada are asserting their control over lives and their homelands in the face of imposed industrial resource extraction that threatens their traditional livelihood and way of life.”
In 2010, a blockade in Vernon, British Columbia was erected in an attempt to drive Tolko Industries, a logging company, from infringing on First Nations land. Their struggle is just one example of attempts by First Nations people in Canada, who are battling against commercial logging and, recently, tar sand pipelines.
Just last Thursday, 130 First Nations, signed an indigenous legal declaration, banning pipelines and oil tankers in British Colombia, in an effort to protect their natural resources in the wake of the oil boom. First Nations leaders have vowed to take legal action against the Northern Gateway project, an Enbridge proposal.
Dying at the hands of corporate contamination
Ten years ago, the people of the Grassy Narrows community made a decision to reverse the trend of destruction on their land.
They did so with the blockade, but it was more than just the timber industry they were standing against — the compiled logs represented their battle against companies infringing upon treaties that were crafted to protect their way of life, which is reliant upon the livelihood of their land.
In the 1970s, First Nations people discovered widespread mercury contamination of their rivers, with levels three times the limit imposed by Health Canada. The source was linked to Dryden Mill, located upstream.
The pollution directly impacted the health of those living on the land, as it seeped into the fish they rely upon for food, leading to devastating consequences for mothers and their children, including seizures, cerebral palsy and delayed development, according to a health study released by mercury expert, Dr. Masazumi Harada.
Harada, who initially conducted his study in 1975, returned in 2004 — he discovered that all of his former patients whose mercury levels were above health guidelines had died. The remaining patients who were exposed to mercury, but whose levels did not exceed Health Canada standards, were diagnosed with mercury poisoning at a rate of nearly 90 percent.
It was still a problem the people were dealing with in 2010, intensifying their sentiment against proposed logging on the same land poisoned by the “outside world” decades earlier — actions that caused death and illness. As they watch the forests around them destroyed, they hold onto their land.
“Because of the forest suffering, we as a people also suffer because … the forest is a part of who we are,” Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows community member, told the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. “It’s a part of our lives and anything that destroys that, we feel it right away.”