Thunder Bay

Feds to provide over $19 million to Wabaseemoong Independent Nations for mercury wellness centre

Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and the federal government have reached an agreement for an on-reserve care facility, which will serve people in the community who are suffering from the effects of decades of mercury poisoning.

New agreement similar to one signed by Grassy Narrows First Nation

The federal government has promised to create health care facilities to meet the needs of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations where people suffer from the impacts of mercury dumped in the English-Wabigoon River by a pulp mill in Dryden. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and the federal government have reached an agreement for an on-reserve care facility, which will serve people in the community who are suffering from the effects of decades of mercury poisoning.

The agreement, signed by Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, and Wabaseemoong Chief Waylon Scott, includes a federal commitment of up to $19.5 million to support the design and construction of a mercury wellness centre in the community.

"The health and well-being of our community has always been and will continue to be a top priority for us," said Scott in a news release on Sept. 18. "In order to make progress forward in addressing these health concerns we have to have a strong relationship built on trust and mutual respect, and we are happy with the steps the federal government is taking today."

Scott said the community, also known as Whitedog First Nation and located about 100 kilometres northwest of Kenora Ont., is pleased to finally see the wellness centre developed. He said that leadership will keep advocating for the wellbeing of its members.

Assessment to be complemented in 2022

The agreement will see Wabaseemoong and the federal government work together to address the unique health needs, including the effects of mercury exposure, within the community through a health assessment

According to Indigenous Services Canada, the assessment is already underway by Wabaseemoong, and is expected to be completed in 2022.

The assessment will identify the health needs of community members to guild the development of a health service delivery plan.

Indigenous Services Canada said supporting the assessment, and the agreement itself, is a step toward closing existing gaps in healthcare for First Nations such as Wabaseemoong.

"This Agreement will build a strong foundation and foster innovative ways to improve the health and well-being of community members, especially for those suffering from the effects of mercury exposure," said Miller in a news release.

Miller said he commends the work of the chief and council in bringing the agreement to fruition, "and developing a First Nation-led solution that will make a real difference in the lives of community members."

The Grand Chief of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3, that includes Wabaseemoong, said he congratulates the community on the agreement, which he believes will bring positive results moving forward.

"I am very happy to see this positive step forward for Wabaseemoong Independent Nations," said Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh in a new release. "I am certain that this move will bring positive results to the people of Wabaseemoong and we at Grand Council Treaty #3 will at all times be ready to support Wabaseemoong in its efforts to improve the health outcomes of its people."

The agreement with Wabaseemoong comes after Grassy Narrows First Nation, or Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, and the federal government reached an agreement for an on-reserve care facility, which will also serve people in the community who are suffering from the effects of mercury poisoning.

The agreement with Grassy Narrows also outlines a commitment of up to $19.5 million from the federal government.

Both communities have faced decades-long impacts from mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River system from the late 1960's to the early 1970's.

During that time frame, untreated mercury waste from a pulp-and-paper mill's operations in Dryden, Ont., entered the English-Wabigoon river system. In addition to causing health problems for some residents, the toxins in the waterway led to closure of a commercial fishery and hurt tourism.

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