Who are they?
Asubpeeschoseewagong – the Indigenous or Anishinaabe name for Grassy Narrows is situated 80 kilometers north of Kenora, Ontario in Canada. The band membership is approximately 1,200, and their traditional territory spans a forest of approximately 2,500 square miles. The community has lived sustainably for millennia, using the forests, rivers and lakes for physical, economic, cultural and spiritual sustenance. A majority of the community still depend on hunting, trapping, and gathering berries and medicines from the land to survive.
What are they facing?
The Grassy Narrows community has been through many traumas including forced attendance in church-run residential schools, coerced relocation away from their traditional living areas, hydro damming flooding sacred sites and wild rice beds, clearcut logging of their forests, and mining.
Yet the impact of mercury poisoning magnifies all these traumas.
In the 1960’s & 70’s the waterways the Grassy Narrows people depend on were polluted with 9000kg of mercury dumping (that’s ten tons!) by a local paper mill, which entered the food web and made the fish of the English-Wabigoon River System toxic. Fish are a staple of the local diet, and Grassy is one of the Anishinabek communities in the area which has been most affected by the poisoning in the following ways –
1) direct mercury poisoning of adults & children by eating fish
2) loss of a source of income (commercial and sports fishing)
3) loss of safe access to a vital cultural activity
These traumas have led to many social, health and economic problems, as well as the devastation of the culture. For thousands of years this community has been strong and self-reliant. Now, as a result of the continued economic dispossession, racism, colonialism and attempts at cultural assimilation that they have been subjected to, Grassy Narrows exhibits the signs of distress that have become typical of First Nations communities across Canada.
Indigenous people, as compared to any other racial or cultural group in Canada, have the lowest life expectancies, highest infant mortality rates, substandard and overcrowded housing, lower education and employment levels, and the highest incarceration rates. Native people lead in the statistics of suicide, alcoholism, and family abuse.
The people of Grassy Narrows not only face the above traumas, but in addition, they still must choose between the food of their ancestors and the risk of mercury poisoning.
What are they doing about it?
In the face of this oppression, and as generations continue to exhibit signs and effects of mercury poisoning 50 years later, the people of Grassy Narrows are actively resisting the continued destruction of their territories, re-occupying their lands, reviving their culture and fighting for control over their lands and self-determination.
What are we helping to fund, exactly? Meet the River Run.
It’s impossible to clean up a mercury contamination without government intervention.
Thus, every 2 years in the summer, members of Grassy and their allies gather in Toronto for a week of activities, actions, rallies and meetings to push against continued provincial neglect of their community’s indigenous, inherent and protected rights – notably the rights to use their waterways and lakes in safety.
Over the years there have been various studies done and efforts made, but it continues to be necessary to pressure the province and it’s government to keep its promises and improve the river. River Run is one way of doing this.
The River Run includes marches and rallies as well as public information events and meals. The most important thing is to bring people from Grassy to the seat of power, and to continue to have them be heard, to continue to demand attention to a problem that is not going away and that has not yet been adequately addressed.
The River Run is 1700km away from the Grassy Narrows community – a 26 hr drive. Grassy try to host people in comfort, as many of them are elders, or are parents with young children, and of course there is the impact of disability caused directly by the mercury as well as other health impacts.
The fundraising from Let Yourself Trust would go towards aiding the Grassy Narrows community reach Toronto this Spring, for the 2016 River Run, and would go towards their organising efforts to this proactive event.
The attention brought by Martyn and LYT’s supporters (both financial and vocal) to this community and their continued fight will be a welcome addition for this ongoing struggle for environmental justice, right-relations, and reconciliation – we can’t wait to get started.
We’ll start by sharing these two videos:
A look at the 2010 River Run – over 250 Grassy Narrow community members marching in the heart of the Government at Queen’s Park, Toronto, Canada.
Grassy Narrows Website: Additional information found here.
This post was written by ferlandjm