Grassy Narrows First Nation

Last Updated April 9, 2010


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Grassy Narrows: Marred by Mercury

Shooting in Grassy Narrows was a challenge, though it's easy enough to get to.  Just a flight to Winnipeg and then a two-hour drive across the Ontario border to Kenora.  From there, it's an hour north through scenery best described as classic Canadian Shield. There's only one fishing camp halfway up - otherwise it's just wilderness.
About 800 people live in 'Grassy' full time. There's no restaurant, no hotel, and only one small general store. The main store - also the grocery store, was found to have PCBs underneath, so it's now closed. Everyone drives into Kenora for groceries. People from here often make the trip to 'town' a few times every week. One person told me some weeks he goes every day.
For my two nights in Grassy, I decided to stay on the reserve instead of driving back and forth to Kenora each day.  The first night, I stayed in the basement room of a house belonging to a woman who lives in Kenora.  She rents it out occasionally.  That night, I had a visit from the owner's son.  At three in the morning.  He wanted to check me out. He told his friends that a reporter was staying in the basement, and wanted to make sure it was true. So he poked his head through the curtain of my room (no door) and said "So you're a reporter eh?"  Then he turned on the light and said "Let's take a look at you." Took me a while to fall back asleep.  I guess he hangs out at his mom's house instead of his own down the road.  A friend of his later told me they'd all been drinking upstairs.  I stayed somewhere else the next night.
As the piece I filed for The National showed, things are pretty bad in Grassy.  But there are some signs of hope.
One is Judy da Silva.  She was one of my contacts while in town.  I interviewed her while there, but didn't use the interview in my story.  I'll hopefully put some of that video online here soon.  Judy was born in Grassy, left for a while, and then returned in 1995.  She's married to a Caipo Indian from Southern Brazil. They have five kids, aged 6 to 15.
In 2002, Judy and a few others from the community were worried that logging was threatening the land around the reserve.  Clear-cutting is common in this part of Ontario, and Grassy locals heard logging was going to take place only three kilometres away from the community, so they set up a blockade on the logging road just north of the reserve.  The logging trucks tried to pass for a while, but were turned back.  They eventually stopped trying.  They now take another way into the forest.  The blockade is still there, though not much to look at anymore - just a sign next to the road and a few cabins. But it's now the longest-lasting blockade in Canadian history.
You might be asking, what does a roadblock have to do with mercury, the story I did, and which has been going on for the past forty years?   Judy da Silva says the mercury poisoning has caused them to lose so much in Grassy:  their health, one of their main sources of food, and the commercial fishing and guiding.  But they're tired of being victims. They feel the land is the one thing they have left, and the logging was threatening it.
But there's a direct connection to mercury, too.  Scientists say the erosion caused by clear-cutting increases the level of mercury in the run-off.  And the last thing they need in these parts is more mercury in the water.

Peter Wall is a videojournalist at The National.
Watch Peter's documentary "Mercury Danger Remains at Grassy Narrows" from Monday, April 5, 2010, at
View a history of CBC coverage of mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows at CBC Digital Archives.

call the band office at 1 800 668 1790 for more information!!!

If you have any announcements or bulletins you would like to post on this homepage, please feel free to email us at the email address posted below.

For more information, please call the band office at (807) 925-2201 or toll free at 1 800 668 1790 during business hours.

October 7, 2009

Grassy Narrows trappers’ trial begins in Toronto

By Mike Aiken

Eighteen volumes of arcane records will be the focus as the trial pitting trappers from Grassy Narrows against the Crown and AbitibiBowater begins this week in Toronto. At stake is the province's authority to grant logging licences on land claimed by First Nations under the Treaty.

During 75 days of hearings, which will take proceedings into April, expert witnesses from both sides will delve into the details of agreements dating back to Confederation as well as interpretations of clauses within Treaty 3 itself.

"We have a lot of history to plow through," acknowledged Robert Janes, counsel for the plaintiffs from Grassy Narrows.

The original suit was launched more than nine years ago. Unfortunately, one of the complainants, Willie Keewatin, passed away before it came to trial.

His commitment to the process was honoured by community members earlier this year. The other two trappers involved are Joe Bill Fobister and Andrew Keewatin.

They were later involved in starting the permanent blockade at Slant Lake at the end of 2002, which blocked access to parts of the Whiskey Jack Forest. Negotiations between the province and the First Nation are ongoing, with the help of facilitator Frank Iacobucci, the former Supreme Court Justice who helped settle the residential schools common experience agreement.

For their part, counsel for the federal government Gary Penner is arguing the plaintiffs' interpretation of Treaty 3 is "too strong" and the case will likely be headed for appeal, regardless of who wins, he noted.

Even if the trial does wind up on time in the spring, it will likely be six months before a judge's decision is rendered, Penner added. The next step would be the Ontario Court of Appeal, which is just below the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Canada agrees with Ontario and Abitibi that the plaintiff's interpretation of the treaty is over reaching and too strong a reading of the words of the treaty itself," he said.

December 27, 2009

Youth at Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario have participated in an almost two-year blockade of logging roads in their traditional territory, protesting the practices of a multinational company granted a license by the province of Ontario to harvest timber and manage the forest. Source: Thunder Bay Independent Media

A belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New year from the Grassy Narrows First Nation and Band Staff!

The Ontario Process Community Consultation program will be launching a Grassy Narrows First Nation website very soon. We will post the link for the website at a later date.

If anybody has any questions regarding business, or any FN programs, please free call us at (807) 925 2201 or toll free at 1 800 668 1790 for more information. Regular Business hours will resume January 4, 2009.


Community-based Framework for Measuring the Success of Indigenous peoples' Forest-based Economic Development in Canada





Affected Communities

Grassy Narrows First Nation
The Ojibwa ancestors of the current residents of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemong Independent Nations lived in the area under study from time immemorial.

In October 3, 1873, Chief Saskatcheway and 24 other chiefs signed the North West Angle Treaty with the federal government.

In the years 1897-1903, the inhabitants of Indian Lake and Grassy Narrows became the community of Grassy Narrows.

Nonetheless, in spite of these changes, the traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering of berries, rice and other foods continued as usual.

In the 1890s, a devestating disease struck this region. Members of the Grassy Narrows area relocated to Indian Lake. Life, however, continued as usual for the next half century.

In 1963, the community of Grassy Narrows was officially relocated to its current location of Jones Road, about five miles from the original settlement. Federal policy required this move to enable residents to have access to improved roads, indoor plumbing, sewers, electricity and a new on-reserve school.

In spite of the supposed ‘advantages’ to the relocation, there were social upheavals. The activities of the traditional lifestyle were disrupted. The families could no longer travel as a cohesive family unit in pursuit of traditional livelihoods such as trapping, gathering, hunting, fishing, and harvesting. The values of independence and self-reliance were undermined. Respect for the land and nature was weakened. There was an increase in violence and alcohol abuse in both communities. Significant changes in the lives of residents of both First Nations occurred.

With respect to Grassy Narrows First Nation, two corporations were set up to develop business activities. They oversaw such businesses as Ball Lake Lodge, Grassy Lodge, Ojibway-aking Marina and English River Fishing Adventures. The Grassy Narrows First Nation corporation itself employed its own members.

Other sources of jobs included the administration office, a day care center, an education authority, a logging business, two stores, the district heating business, a family service organization, as well as a crisis center. The 3 largest employers employed 114 fulltime and 89 part time workers.

Other activities did not do very well. Commercial fishing, wild rice harvesting, and berry picking are examples that did not provide much employment.

In 2009, the Grassy Narrows First Nation had 1,378 registered members. In the 1996 the census, or population count, shows that 46% had less than Gr.9, 32% with Gr.9-13. In short, First Nations members needed an opportunity to increase their level of education to make them more employable.

Of the 1,107 inhabitants registered in 2000, the same census shows 270 aboriginals over 15 years of age. Of that number, 185 people were included in the total aboriginal labor force. 105 were employed. Indian and Northern Affairs reveal an unemployment rate of 43%. This appears to be an improvement over the 1988 First Nations report showing 87% as unemployed. In short, employment opportunities were not abundant.

Wabaseemoong Independent Nation
Wabaseemoong Independent First Nations had previously been known as the Islington Band or the Whitedog Reserve. It was made up of the communities of Whitedog, One Man Lake and Swan Lake.

Generally speaking, the residents of this area experienced a lifestyle similar to that of Grassy Narrows.

A severe disruption of life to both occurred in the 1950s. Ontario Hydro flooded lands traditionally occupied by members of these First Nations. Wild rice harvesting and trapping and other such activities were no longer possible in areas flooded.

Overall, the traditional lifestyle had already begun to change before the mercury poisoning of the English-Wabigoon River system in 1969 when the contamination first became known to area inhabitants.

Between 1920 and 1948, commercial fishing developed around the One Man Lake reserve. Hunting and fishing lodges encouraged tourists to visit the area. Pulpwood cutting provided an alternate source of income for some.

Also, in the 1950s harvesting of green wild rice and winter ice fishing became a source of livelihood.

This is just a brief overview of the situation affecting both First Nations.They experienced a much more severe disruption in their ways of making a living after the discovery of mercury contamination.

Commercial fishing was ruined. Hunting and fishing lodges were closed. For example, the Ball Lake Lodge used to employ almost all of the employable adults at Grassy Narrows, either on a full time or on a part time basis. It was closed in the summer of 1970. The lodge was not re-opened until 1990.

The settlement that was made into law in 1986 provided funding for economic development for both First Nations. A detailed account is found in the Cosway Report.

The legislation of July 1986 set up institutions that were supposed to provide employment opportunities for First Nations members.

Various financial settlements with the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations came out of the agreements with the parties involved in the dispute. In addition to the money turned over to the to the First Nations corporation, promises included the construction of a high school as well as other community facilities.

The economic development initiatives agreed upon included ones similar to those of Grassy Narrows First Nation. Some were different, for example greenhouse and seedling production, a commercial fishery, logging, to name a few.

As of 2009, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations had 1,756 registered members. The 1996 census showed that 39% of those over 15 years of age had less than Gr.9. 56% had grade 9-13. There were few members with an education above Gr.13. The unemployment rate was 40%.The unemployment rate since 1978 was considerably reduced. It was 80% in that year.

Kiichi Meegwetch for stopping by to visit.

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