Members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation say Ontario’s logging plans would adversely affect forests in their community and worsen the mercury poisoning issues residents have been grappling with for decades.
Chief Simon Fobister, “clan mother’’ Judith Da Silva, and band councillor Rudy Turtle met with the Toronto Star’s editorial board Wednesday and spoke out against the province’s long-term forest management plan for their area.
The community, located in southwestern Ontario near Kenora, is challenging Ontario’s right to issue permits allowing logging on their territory and have sent a letter toPremier Kathleen Wynne rejecting the plan. The case is before the Supreme Court of Canada, though no hearing date has been set.
An Ontario Court of Appeal decision in March said the province has the right to mine and log on treaty land, and that’s the decision the Grassy Narrows band is challenging.
The public input phase of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ 10-year Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan ends Thursday, (it’s in the draft phase) but no licences can be issued, and no work can go ahead until the high court decision comes down.
In the meantime, Grassy Narrows residents have for the past 10 years blockaded logging on their territory.
They’re struggling with the aftermath of a nearby paper mill dumping mercury into the river system 40 years ago. Reports from experts showed 60 per cent of the 160 Grassy Narrows Lake residents tested in 2010 showed symptoms of mercury poisoning. Fishing and the band’s local economy have taken a debilitating hit as a result of the mercury.
Fobister told the Star there’s not much mature timber left in their territory for logging.
“They (the province) still believe they’re the kings of the forest,’’ Fobister said, adding that any new logging will worsen the community’s mercury problem. The community wants the province and federal government to do a massive clean-up of the contaminated area.
Da Silva said the province has set up a working group to look into the mercury concerns, and a two-year tap water study initiated by the province has been promised.
But the study doesn’t address the band’s list of key demands, which include cleaning up the mercury, compensating victims, and end logging in the area.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources did not respond to a request for comment.
The group wants Ontario to acknowledge mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows, apologize, and accept responsibility.
The also want funding of a permanent Grassy Narrows-run environmental health monitoring centre to deal with mercury and other pollutants.
“To me that (tap water testing) is a small thing,’’ Da Silva said.
“The cleanup of our river system is bigger and more important,’’ she added.