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Grassy Narrows chief urges Trudeau to cleanup mercury in river

A clear cut section of forest is seen on Grassy Narrows First Nation territory near Dryden, Ont., in this 2006 handout image. (HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:14PM EST

Last updated Sunday, Jan. 01, 2017 8:16PM EST


Responsibility for the mercury problems straddles provincial and federal jurisdictions and, so far, the province of Ontario has borne much of the blame for the fact that the contamination has persisted in the Wabigoon River for six decades. But David Sone of Earthroots, a conservation advocacy group, says there are at least three reasons for the federal government to get involved.

“There is at least still some [federal] responsibility for fisheries where they are part of a cultural fishery” like the one at Grassy Narrows, said Mr. Sone. “There is a responsibility for the health of First Nations. And there is the broader treaty and fiduciary responsibility for the well-being of First Nations.”


The chief of a small Northern Ontario First Nation whose people are being poisoned by mercury from a defunct paper mill is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to engage the federal government in the cleanup of the river that is the source of the community’s fish.

Simon Fobister, the Chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, has written twice to Mr. Trudeau – in May and in September – and Mr. Fobister’s predecessor, Roger Fobister, wrote to the Prime Minister in March. All of the letters told Mr. Trudeau: “We invite you to visit our community to announce alongside us that the mercury in our river system, our source of life, will finally be cleaned up.”

The chief says he has received no response to those invitations, though the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged to The Globe and Mail that it had received them. A spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau pointed out that a representative of the Indigenous Affairs department visited the community in June along with provincial ministers.

Many First Nations in Canada are coping with the negative environmental consequences of development on or near their territories, but few have endured hardships like those suffered in Grassy Narrows, where 90 per cent of residents are showing signs of mercury poisoning. 

Read the full article in the The Globe and Mail here.