'Longest running' First Nations blockade continues
Grassy Narrows First Nation marks 10 years of resistance
First Nations activists were back at the blockade on Monday after celebrating a decade of turning back logging trucks from Grassy Narrows traditional lands.
The road block first went up at Slant Lake, about 600 km northwest of Thunder Bay, on Dec. 2, 2002.
"When the cops showed up, they were telling us ‘you can’t do this, what you’re doing is illegal’ and all this stuff," said Grassy Narrows community member Judy DaSilva. "It was scary."
‘The forest is part of who we are’
But not as frightening as watching the forest surrounding the community being clear cut, she said.
"Because of the forest suffering, we as a people also suffer because … the forest is a part of who we are," DaSilva said. "It’s a part of our lives and anything that destroys that, we feel it right away."
DaSilva said the police eventually recognized the blockade as a peaceful protest and so it has gone on to become what environmental groups call "the longest running Indigenous logging blockade in Canada."
It also led to a significant court decision.
In 2011, Ontario's Superior Court ruled the province cannot authorize timber and logging if the operations infringe on federal treaty promises protecting aboriginal rights to traditional hunting and trapping.
The province is appealing the ruling, but a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources said the province recognizes the importance of the forest surrounding Grassy Narrows.
"That’s why we’re interested in continuing the conversation with Grassy Narrows and all partners," Jolanta Kowalski said.
Several forestry companies have stopped logging in the area, including Resolute (formerly AbitibiBowater) Boise and Domtar, but Weyerhauser continues to seek access to lands people from Grassy Narrows want to protect.
‘We’re still here’
"For me, the anniversary just marks that we’re still here and we’re still going to be opposing the destruction of the forest," DaSilva said.
Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister said he is proud of the work ordinary people in his community have done to stand up for their rights.
"It’s individuals that carry those rights and freedoms and they banded together to express that to the general public," Fobister said. "I think that’s the big difference."