CBC Digital Archives

Grassy Narrows: Compensation and 'shame'

Between 1962 and 1970, natives in two northwest Ontario communities sat down to daily meals of poison. Their staple food — fish — had record-high levels of mercury from a chemical plant up the river. Debate still rages over just how sick the mercury has made the people of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog reserves. There is no doubt, however, that the lingering pollution was a disaster for the natives and the lodge owners who had employed them as fishing guides. Their source of food and jobs destroyed, the bands endured years of alcoholism and despair, government neglect and, finally, healing.

Residents of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog reserves will get almost $17 million in compensation for the killing of their waterway with mercury. The agreement was announced today by federal Indian Affairs Minister David Crombie. "I and many Canadians have felt shame that situations like these could develop in our midst," Crombie says. A key part of the deal is a $2-million health fund for the 50 to 60 natives with nervous disorders linked to mercury exposure. 
. The agreement paid the two bands a total of almost $17 million. Ontario contributed just over $2 million. The federal government paid $2.75 million. Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd., which bought Dryden Chemicals Ltd. in 1979, contributed $6 million while the previous owner, Reed Inc., paid $5.75 million.

. The Grassy Narrows band received almost $9 million. The Islington band at Whitedog reserve received $8 million. Both bands agreed to withdraw lawsuits against Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd. and Reed Inc. Grassy Narrows placed its money in one band corporation for economic development and another for social development. It also bought a resort on Ball Lake. Whitedog residents set up a trust fund with annual interest to be used for social and economic projects.

. Both bands put the settlement offers to a vote. At Grassy Narrows, 92 per cent of residents voted in favour of the deal. At Whitedog, 97 per cent voted to settle. Chief Arnold Pelly of Grassy Narrows told the Globe and Mail that "...whatever money we get from the settlement will never be enough to replace what we lost."

. In December 1986, Chief Tom Henry of the Whitedog reserve told Canadian Press that his band members spent more than $900,000 in compensation money one weekend on snowmobiles, Christmas presents, guitars and parties. "I guess some of them had a pretty good time," Henry said. "It is their money and they could spend it as they wanted to. But all the money spent on parties and drinking is unretrievable money that is lost to the band forever."

. Leaders of the Grassy Narrows band say that, despite the 1985 settlement, the Ontario government still has not fully compensated the people for their losses. As of February 2004, they continue to press provincial leaders to resume talks that broke off in 2000.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 25, 1985
Guest(s): John Olthuis
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Claude Adams
Duration: 2:05
Photo: Hiro Miyamatsu

Last updated: January 30, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Acid Rain: Pollution and Politics

When fish started turning belly up in lakes and streams, North America's eyes were suddenly op...

Troubled Waters: Pollution in the Great Lakes

Bacteria-laden beaches, lakes choked with algae and fish contaminated by industrial waste: the...

Mercury Rising: The Poisoning of Grassy Narro...

Between 1962 and 1970, natives in two northwest Ontario communities sat down to daily meals of...

The Sinking and Raising of the Irving Whale

Environmentalists dubbed it a ticking time bomb, and nobody knew when -- or if -- the Irving W...

1986: CEO polluter gets jail time

A millionaire CEO in Toronto is sentenced to one year in prison for polluting city sewers.

1989: Cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez

Emergency response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill is too small and too slow, critics say.