Grassy Narrows First Nation on alert for logging

Grassy Narrows First Nation is the home of the longest running First Nations blockade in Canada. Logging halted for over 11 years, but in the past few months things are picking up once again.

Longest running First Nations blockade effectively stopped logging since December 2002

More clearcut logging of the one-million hectare Whiskey Jack Forest is in the works. The Whiskey Jack Forest is part of Grassy Narrows First Nation's traditional territory. (

The Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Grassy Narrows) is on alert for logging trucks to come in April 2014.

Grassy Narrows is the home of the longest running First Nations blockade in Canada. Its original Slant Lake blockade site, about 100 km north of Kenora, Ontario, started on December 2, 2002. 

Judy DaSilva is a member of Grassy Narrows First Nation and has been on the forefront right from the start

“As a mom, I’ll do whatever I can to protect the forests, pretty much the other moms around here have the same mindset,” said DaSilva a mother of five with concern for the future generations.

In 2002, DaSilva was tired of seeing mercury debilitate her people, watching logging trucks pass by her home and took action.

As a mom, I’ll do whatever I can to protect the forests, pretty much the other moms around here have the same mindset.- Judy DaSilva

Last year, DaSilva won a Michael Sattler Peace Prize from the German Mennonite Peace Committee for her non-violent direct-action approach in the blockade at Grassy Narrows traditional territory, within the Treaty 3 region. 

Judy DaSilva (CBC News)

Logging halted for over 11 years, but in the past few months things are picking up once again.

Clear-cut logging plans persist 

In December 2013, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources finalized and approved a 10-year Forest Management Plan (FMP)​, originally introduced in 2011.

“Under this plan, there are no planned harvest blocks located within the Grassy Narrows’ self-identified traditional land use area,” said Minister David Orazietti in a statement on November 6, 2013. 

Orazietti’s assurances contradicted what Grassy Narrows saw in the FMP.

Grassy Narrows has been rejecting the plan, citing a lack of duty to consult and clear-cut logging on their traditional territory.

“The minister’s statement is false, and completely misrepresents Ontario’s plans for another decade of clear-cut logging on our territory against our will, “ clarified Chief Simon Fobister in a media release on November 7, 2013.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources confirmed to CBC by e-mail on January 31st that clear-cut logging would start on April 1st. 

Calls for the Ontario government to retract plans

“When I heard of these [logging] plans, I had a really sick feeling, the industry speaks louder than our people, I thought Kathleen Wynn understood our situation, it shows a complete disregard,” said DaSilva.

“Premier Wynne, it is within your power to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at the expense of another generation of Grassy Narrows children,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister in a December 23, 2013 media release.

 “I call on you to intervene this hurtful plan and to ensure that never again will Ontario attempt to force decisions on our people and our lands”, said Fobister.

Fobister and other Treaty 3 chiefs took their concerns to Queens Park in Toronto on Thursday, January 30.

A duty to consult

“They [province] continued to move forward and we all have concerns that the duty to consult was not appropriately [met]” said Treaty 3 Chief White in an interview with CBC in Thunder Bay.

It means money to them, but to us we are thinking about the watershed, wildlife, and how logging will affect our Anishinaabe way of life, it not only affects us Anishinaabe, it affects us all, Canadians too.- Judy DaSilva

MNR said it was meeting its duty to consult. 

“(FMP) has consciously attempted to respect the on-going discussions between Grassy Narrows First Nation and MNR within the Process Agreement,” said Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with MNR.

DaSilva and supporters are aware that the recent suite of omnibus bills introduced by the Harper government will pose new challenges.   

Challenges ahead 

Demonstrators gathered at Queens Park in Toronto in April 2010 to demand compensation for mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows, Ont., in the 1970s. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

“It means money to them, but to us we are thinking about the watershed, wildlife, and how logging will affect our Anishinaabe way of life, it not only affects us Anishinaabe, it affects us all, Canadians too,” said DaSilva.

Grassy Narrows and DaSilva says the MNR plan disregards aboriginal, treaty, and inherent rights. They say those rights are what protect aboriginal peoples ability to sustain community through traditional land use practices, including, fishing, hunting, trapping, medicine picking, and ceremonial use.

A legacy of mercury poisoning

Fish is a staple diet for anishinaabe people. Grassy Narrows people have eaten and still eat fish contaminated with mercury as not everyone can afford food not caught nearby. (CBC)
People in Grassy Narrows have been Baypoisoned by mercury for over 40 years. 20,000 pounds of mercury was dumped into the Wabigoon River-English River system by an upstream paper mill, Dryden Chemicals Inc., which had permission from the province to freely dispose of chemicals between 1962 to 1970. 

People in Grassy Narrows have developed neurological Minimata disease from eating contaminated fish. The disease can cause blurred vision, tremors, lack of motor control, seizures, and children born with cerebral palsy, according to a report..

The community is especially concerned that when logging starts, the mercury levels will rise

DaSilva said a rally is planned in Toronto in August but is uncertain of what will happen when the logging trucks come in two months.

With files from CBC Thunder Bay.