Thunder Bay

Grassy Narrows 12-year blockade against clear cutting wins award

An Ontario environmental group is recognizing one of Canada's longest standing blockades with a public service award.

Ontario Nature recognizes 'exceptional environmental achievement' of northern Ontario First Nation

Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister Sr. accepted the J.R. Dymond Public Service Award from Ontario Nature on behalf of the community.

An Ontario environmental group is recognizing one of Canada's longest standing blockades with a public service award.

Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario received Ontario Nature's J.R. Dymond Public Service Award for exceptional environmental achievement at a ceremony on Saturday.

Members of the First Nation first began a blockade 12 years ago against logging trucks on its traditional territory north of Kenora, Ont. 

"The land is what sustains the Ojibway culture," said Chief Roger Fobister Sr. who accepted the award on behalf of the community. "Everybody's got a homeland and this is ours, so we need to protect it."

Moose and other animals that are essential to the food supply in the community can't survive in areas that have been clear cut, Fobister said. Even after the trees grow back, the landscape is altered and the animals don't return, he said.

'Enough is enough'

"That resulted in the band members taking up the cause and saying 'enough is enough', we can't survive in clear cut lands and that's what caused all this," Fobister said of the origins of the blockade on Dec. 2, 2002.

"These efforts to fight for ecological integrity are extremely commendable," said the Ontario Nature awards committee in a news release.

The First Nation, already a victim of historic mercury poisoning from a nearby pulp mill, has also expressed concern about mass harvesting of trees contributing to the mercury load in the environment. 

The Ontario government said it has "extensively reviewed" the concerns about logging and mercury in approving a new 10-year forest management plan for the area.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change said in December 2014 that it is imposing conditions on the plan that will ensure logging companies adhere to the most current requirements to protect the environment.

But the community remains skeptical of the province's ability to protect its best interests and so the blockade continues.

"That's obviously what Grassy Narrows has been fighting against is government jurisdiction," Fobister said. "The way they manage the land is just totally different from the way we would do it."