Grassy Narrows First Nation and federal government sign agreement to build on-reserve mercury care home
Indigenous Services minister says framework ‘is the beginning of an important turning point’
Grassy Narrows First Nation, or Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, 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 mercury poisoning.
Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, signed a framework agreement Thursday, outlining the funding the government will be providing for the construction of the care facility.
"Canada, and Minister Miller have made sacred promises to us in this contract and in person, and we will make sure that those promises are honoured," Turtle said. "We will see that the Mercury Care Home is built well, built quickly, and meets the care needs of our people."
Indigenous Services Canada officials said $19.5 million will go toward the construction of the Mercury Care Home, and they are working toward obtaining additional funding to support operation of the care facility.
The agreement comes after years of discussion, which began in 2017 when the Indigenous Services Canada pledged to build the facility for the community that has been plagued by mercury contamination since the 1960s.
"This is a big step forward for our people and I honour all of our youth, elders, and community members who worked to make this happen," Turtle said.
The care facility gained national prominence in the past year as members of the Grassy Narrows community and their supporters took action to enforce the promise made by the government to build and operate the facility.
"This historic framework agreement is the beginning of an important turning point," Miller said in a statement issued Friday. "Reflecting on what should have happened a long time ago, I take great pride and promise in what can be done so that specialized care can be accessed, and close to home. I also recognize the work and trust of Chief Turtle putting what he believes in his heart to be just at the centre of his advocacy."
Members of Grassy Narrows said they are continuing to seek long-term funding for the full services required at the facility for people suffering from the debilitating impacts of mercury poisoning.
"While the current contract goes far beyond previous federal written offers, it does not give Grassy Narrows the certainty it requires on long term funding for the full range of services that experts say are needed for people living with mercury," a statement issued by the community reads. "Minister Miller has committed that he will seek the authorities needed to finish the job and give Grassy Narrows that comfort."
Grassy Narrows is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont.