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Grassy Narrows: Community in crisis

The Story

The girl smiles as she describes her uncle threatening her grandmother with a shotgun. But the grin turns into something else as she relives both the loud bang and locking eyes with her dying grandma. Such horror stories are all too common at Grassy Narrows, where, in one year, almost one in five youths aged 11 to 19 tried to kill themselves. The social crisis has intensified despite - some say because of - the good intentions of governments and "do-gooders," reporter Keith Morrison says in this clip from CBC Television's The Journal. The province's forced relocation of the Native residents' homes, and its later feeble attempts to help them cope with the mercury crisis, have done more harm than good. Mostly, he says, the residents just want to be left alone to heal themselves.

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: March 15, 1983
Guests: Steve Fobister, Cindy Fobister, John Munro
Host: Peter Kent
Reporter: Keith Morrison
Duration: 13:22

Did You know?

• By the mid-1970s, only 23 per cent of deaths on Grassy Narrows reserve were from natural causes or accidents. Visitors to the reserve described a common pattern of binge drinking that often ended in violence. While parents drank, neglected children roamed wild, sometimes dying from exposure. Others became "burnt" - brain damaged - from sniffing gasoline.

• Between January and October 1977, Ontario Provincial Police investigated 698 "occurrences" at Grassy Narrows and laid 426 charges. The on-reserve population at the time was 430. Almost one in three charges were against children under age 16.

• The reserve's decline was captured on film by Japanese-born photographer Hiro Miyamatsu. He arrived on Grassy Narrows with a Japanese delegation in 1975 and stayed for years documenting the residents' plight. The photos, many showing funerals, provoked shock and outrage from the public when they were exhibited in Toronto in 1980.
• A theatre production about the mercury poisoning, called Whitedog/Cat's Dance, was also mounted in Toronto in 1980.


Mercury Rising: The Poisoning of Grassy Narrows more