Grassy Narrows First Nation is a strong Indigenous community in Northern Ontario with a long history of protecting and defending their land. For thousands of years Grassy Narrows has been an independent people with a vibrant culture and a strong relationship with their land. But in recent decades Grassy Narrows has had to fight back against industrial attacks on their health and way of life.
Overcoming the legacy of residential schools, hydroelectric damming, clear-cut logging, mercury poisoning, and now gold mining, Grassy Narrows is fighting back to protect the lands and waters that give us all life and form the foundation of Grassy Narrows’ culture. Through their bravery and perseverance, Grassy Narrows has fought off some of the world’s largest logging companies and won important commitments from the government.
Here is a snapshot of what Grassy Narrows has accomplished so far.
Stopping Clear-cut Logging
When clear-cut logging began to accelerate near the community in the early 2000s, the community set up what would become the longest-standing logging blockade in Canadian history. With Elders, youth, and elected leadership all taking action, Grassy Narrows eventually forced multinational logging companies off their territory, thereby protecting traditional hunting grounds.
Grassy Narrows is in the Boreal Forest, which is one of the largest intact ancient forests in the world. The shear mass of trees, soil, and peat moss help mitigate climate change and serve as some of the world’s largest carbon stores. It is home for tons of wildlife, including endangered species like woodland caribou who rely specifically on old-growth forests. The clear-cut logging that did take place destroyed sensitive habitats that will take hundreds of years to restore. It also destroyed hunting grounds and plant medicines that have been part of Grassy Narrows’ way of life for generations.
Clear-cut logging has also increased the amount of toxic mercury released into the local river systems, contaminating fish and animals. This is just another reason why Grassy Narrows wants to make sure that there is no more logging in their territory.
Unfortunately, logging has not been the only source of mercury that has impacted the health of the community. In the 1960s, a pulp and paper mill dumped tonnes of waste mercury into the river with the permission of the Province. Since then, mercury has been present in the water and contaminated the fish, which are common food sources for Grassy Narrows and other nearby communities. Soon after the mercury dumping, local fisheries were closed and fishers lost their livelihood, causing massive unemployment in Grassy Narrows. The fish that Grassy Narrows people rely on remain the most mercury contaminated in Canada, over 50 years after the river was originally poisoned.
Community members have suffered from mercury poisoning, which has severe effects on the neurological system, causing loss of vision, loss of feeling, mobility issues, lower success in school, and even early death. For years, the community has been demanding that the Ontario government clean up the river, compensate people fairly for mercury poisoning, and fund a community-run health centre. In early 2020, Canada finally committed to funding a care home for those facing the harmful health impacts of mercury poisoning, showing that the community’s advocacy and commitment pays off.
In 2018, the number of mining claims in the territory began growing astronomically. Now, there are about 4,000 mining claims and a number of those have gone to the next stage: mining permits to drill holes into the ground and search for gold. Drilling and any other mining activity would create waste and pollution, and infringe upon the community’s Treaty Rights to hunt, trap, and fish on the land. Mining would disrupt the forests, wildlife, and-ultimately-the community’s traditions and ways of life.
The people of Grassy Narrows found out about one of these permits, decided to stand up, and send letters to the mining company and the government. As a result, Trillium Gold Mines Inc. withdrew the application to explore for a mine in Grassy’s territory.
Now the community has found out about several more permits. With public pressure, we can help protect the land and stand for up Indigenous rights.
Join us and stand with Grassy Narrows to stop all mining projects on their traditional territory. Send a letter to the Minster of Northern Development and the Premier of Ontario to let them know that we are all standing with Grassy Narrows so that no one is poisoned again.
In 2018, Grassy Narrows declared their territory to be an Indigenous Sovereignty and Protected Area. The new “Grassy Narrows Land Declaration” asserts that Grassy Narrows will make their own land use decisions and will protect their land from industry. They have called on all peoples to “Stand with us in asserting and enforcing our sovereignty and this Declaration.” Read the full declaration.
Stay in the loop about the community's fight for justice by signing up to their newsletter at freegrassy.net, and don’t forget to join them and take action today. Send a letter to Ontario’s leaders and tell them to respect Grassy Narrows as an Indigenous Protected Area.