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AFN Demands Answers in Grassy Narrows Mercury Poisoning

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is calling on the Canadian government and the Ontario provincial government to hold a national inquiry into the historic and continuing mercury poisoning and other contamination at the Grassy Narrows community, an Ojibway First Nation about 50 miles north of Kenora, Ontario.

The national First Nations organization launched an online petition seeking signatures in support of Grassy Narrows and the surrounding communities that have been devastated from decades of industrial pollution.

“This Inquiry is necessary as a result of continued pressure on the Grassy Narrows community from industrial forestry, the devastation of their traditional economy and livelihood, and continuing health impacts,” the petition says. “The health of community members in Grassy Narrows and nearby mercury-affected communities continues to deteriorate. Two generations after the Dryden pulp mill released pollution into the English-Wabigoon river system, children are still being born with health problems from mercury and other contamination.”

The Dryden Chemical Company, a chemical plant in Dryden, Ontario, supplied both sodium hydroxide and chlorine used in large amounts for bleaching paper during production for the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. Grassy Narrows’ other environmental concern is the clear-cutting of trees for paper by Abitibi Consolidated. In 2002, community members launched a blockade to stop clear-cut logging in their traditional territory. The blockade is one of the longest running indigenous land protests in Canadian history, according to Amnesty International.

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At AFN’s annual general assembly in Winnipeg last July, the organization passed AFN Resolution No. 04/2010, which called on the federal and provincial governments “to acknowledge mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows and strengthen Health Canada mercury safety guidelines to protect all life including people”; provide permanent monitoring of the situation and ongoing funding for Grassy Narrows–run environmental center, which includes training for youth; institute mechanisms to stop industry from polluting the water and air; and restore Grassy Narrows’ control over Grassy Narrows Territory, including putting a stop to clear-cutting, as this contributes to the leaching of mercury into waterways, among other damages.

The resolution also called on the governments to initiate a public inquiry into the ongoing health impacts of mercury poisoning. The petition once again calls for a public inquiry, and urges the governments “to each take responsibility, under their respective jurisdictions, by calling this inquiry by March 1, 2011.”

If the Canadian and Ontario governments fail to fulfill their responsibilities, the First Nation governments, with the support of the AFN, “will hold a national inquiring under the jurisdiction of the Grand Council Treaty #3 and Grassy Narrows First Nation,” the petition says.

Treaty 3 was an agreement entered into on October 3, 1873, by the Ojibway Nation and Queen Victoria. The treaty covers a large part of what is now northwestern Ontario and a small part of eastern Manitoba. Treaty 3 also provided for rights for the Métis (referred to as "Half-Breeds" in the document) and other Ojibway, through “a series of adhesions” signed over the following year. The Grand Council Treaty #3 is the historic government of the Anishinaabe or Ojibway Nation and is the political government for the 28 First Nations in the treaty area.