Mercury contamination at Grassy Narrows First Nation will get worse with logging, deputy chief says

June 18, 2015

By: CBC News

Leaders at Grassy Narrows First Nation want all logging near their community stopped for fear it is adding to the mercury contamination already poisoning people in the northwestern Ontario community.

“It’s the same government and the same ministry that allowed the mercury to be dumped,” said Grassy Narrows Deputy Chief Randy Fobister of the provincial government department that approves logging plans. “They don’t care about us.”

A Dryden, Ont. paper mill dumped mercury in the English-Wabigoon river system in the 1960s. A report released on Monday calls for a clean up. It also shows mercury levels continue to rise in some of the lakes that people from Grassy Narrows rely on for sustenance fishing.

Further research on the effects of logging on downstream water quality is also needed, according to the report commissioned by the First Nation and Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

The province’s most recent forest management plan includes clear cutting on the traditional territory of Grassy Narrows First Nation.

“They say they won’t be cutting [trees] close to our homeland, but it’s still going to affect our small lakes, our animals and fish,” said Grassy Narrows Deputy Chief Randy Fobister.

Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Mauro said he is aware of the community’s concerns and province-wide regulations will provide protection.

“There is no distinction to be made in that particular forest and the way we harvest in any other forest in the province of Ontario,” Mauro said. “The way we cut trees is the same across the province.”

‘Active debate’

When Premier Wynne was asked on Monday whether she would revoke the forestry plan, she said there is “an active debate” in the community about logging because of the “economic issue.”

Both deputy chief Randy Fobister and Chief Roger Fobister have spoken out against clear cutting. Randy Fobister said he supports the efforts of community activist Judy DaSilva, one of the people who has helped maintain an on-going blockade against logging at Grassy Narrows since 2002.

Grassy Narrows First Nation activist Judy Dasilva (sitting) at a 2012 rally in Toronto. DaSilva says clear cutting is adding to the mercury contamination near the community. (Kevin Konnyu/picasaweb)

“Even though the Dryden mill has stopped dumping mercury in the river system, the logging activity still creates a danger to our community,” DaSilva said.

The premier said the government will consider any new information from the report.

“We want to work with the community and make the best decisions for the environment and for their economy,” Wynne said.

But the potential that new forest activity will add to the mercury contamination “takes away from our economy,” said Randy Fobister.

“That’s all we know — fishing,” he said. “Mercury destroyed that once. If they allow more cutting, we’ll never be able to sustain ourselves.”

By: CBC News

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