Thunder Bay

Grassy Narrows chief says Ontario must keep promise of mercury cleanup

The chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation says Ontario must stand by a promise made by the environment minister this week to clean up the mercury contamination in the river and waterways surrounding the community.

'He made the statement in the legislature, how much more do we need?' Simon Fobister asks

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister (left) spoke to media in Winnipeg last spring about the mercury poisoning that continues to afflict people in the First Nation. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation says Ontario must stand by a promise made by the environment minister this week to clean up the mercury contamination in the river and waterways surrounding the community.

During question period on Wednesday Environment Minister Glen Murray committed to cleaning up the English-Wabigoon River system.

The river was poisoned in the 1960s and 70s when a paper mill in Dryden, Ont., dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury into it. Scientific reports released in the spring show the contamination continues and medical research by Japanese doctors revealed up to 90 per cent of the people at Grassy Narrows demonstrate symptoms of mercury poisoning.

After decades of fighting for a cleanup, Chief Simon Fobister said "it's a pretty astounding statement and commitment [from the minister] and we'll hold him to that."

Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray said nothing has changed in the Liberal's commitment to Grassy Narrows. (Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change/Canadian Press)
But Murray said on Thursday that "nothing has changed" in the government's plans to work with Grassy Narrows.

Ontario is spending $300,000 to continue research by one of the scientists who wrote the report this spring saying the river should be cleaned up, he said. An additional $300,000 is being spent on sediment and fish sampling by the government.

"The result of this study, all $600,000, will be led by the First Nations and the elders and they will make decisions with us on which measures should be taken and in what order," Murray said.

But Fobister believes something significant has changed.

"I was surprised to hear that the minister made a commitment that, after this study is done, they're going to clean up the river," he said. "That's pretty amazing. It's pretty awesome."

Fobister said he's now counting on a cleanup.

"He made a statement at the legislature, how much more do we need?" he asked.

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