Human rights must be the Priority at Grassy Narrows: Social justice groups say province’s efforts to resume clear-cut logging could derail progress in Grassy Narrows

Public interest organizations say Ontario is treating the people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation as second-class citizens with second-class rights. Grassy Narrows is the site of a seven-year-old blockade against forestry practices that community members say threaten their culture and survival. In May 2008, the community and the province entered into talks over long-term management of the forests in the traditional territory of Grassy Narrows.

There are growing concerns, however, that the province may have already made up its mind to continue large-scale clear-cut logging in the territory, regardless of the consequences for the community. Even while talks are continuing, the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources has brought forward a new logging plan that includes provisions forpotential resumption of large-scale clear cutting on the disputed lands.

In a public statement issued today, 21 organizations concerned with Indigenous peoples’ rights, social justice and environmental protection strongly criticized the government of Ontario for failing to make the rights of the people of Grassy Narrows their first priority.

“Ontario should be making every effort to address the wrongs of the past and ensure that the rights of the people of Grassy Narrows are at long last respected and upheld,” the letter states. “We are deeply troubled that the province’s outdated business as usual approach to forest management is taking priority over the inherent and constitutional entrenched rights of Indigenous peoples.”

The human rights organization, Amnesty International, has recently issued a global action appeal, urging the province not to permit any logging at Grassy Narrows without the consent of the community. The appeal is part of a worldwide campaign on human rights abuses that fuel poverty.

“The people of Grassy Narrows face severe problems of poverty, environmental contamination, and poor health that should be unthinkable in a country as wealthy as Canada,” says Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada. “After government officials failed over and over again to uphold the rights of the people of Grassy Narrows, the community set up the blockade to take protection of their rights into their own hands. This should be a wake-up call to the province that it needs to work with Grassy Narrows to set things right.”

Logging and industrial resource extraction can have a profound implication for the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, including rights protected by national law, historic treaties, and international human rights instruments. Canadian courts have recognized that Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in any decision that could affect their rights and that in the most serious instances decisions should only be taken with their consent. International human rights standards call on states to seek the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before making any decisions about resource development on their lands.

“The province appears to only be willing to talk about how the Grassy Narrows territory will be clear-cut when the community has made it clear that it wants to consider other options,” says Greg Boyle, National Director of the Sierra Youth Coalition “Such an approach falls far short of the Government’s legal duties toward the people of Grassy Narrows.”

In March 2008, Boise Inc, one of the world’s largest paper companies, announced that it would not buy pulp from wood logged without the consent of the Grassy Narrows people. In June 2008, Abitibi Consolidated, then the world’s largest newsprint producer, announced that they would cease logging in Grassy Narrows and relinquish their license to log in the area. In June, the ethnical investment firm Calvert divested from the Weyerhaeuser forestry company over that company’s refusal to adopt a requirement that logging at Grassy Narrows be carried out only with the community’s consent.

“There is growing recognition that the forest industry can’t run roughshod over the rights of Indigenous peoples,” says Regional Chief Angus Toulouse of the Chiefs of Ontario. “It’s deeply disappointing that instead of promoting the rights of Indigenous peoples in Ontario, the provincial government has taken an approach to forest management that has already been refuted by industry leaders.”

The 21 organizations that signed the joint statement are calling on the province to make an immediate, public commitment that it will not permit logging without consent at Grassy Narrows. These organizations are also calling on the government to make protection of the community’s rights a priority in future forest management decisions. In addition, the organizations are calling on Weyerhaeuser and other companies to publicly commit not to log or use wood from Grassy Narrows Territory without consent.

Background
Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeshoseewagong Netum Anishinaabek) is an Anishnabe community in northwestern Ontario.
Mercury contamination of their river system in the 1960s devastated their economy, plunging the community into
extreme poverty from which it has never fully recovered. Community members continue to rely on the forest for
hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering of berries and plant medicines, as well as a site for ceremonies and cultural
teachings.

Organizations Signing Joint Statement:
Amnesty International Canada
AW@L
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Chiefs of Ontario
Christian Peacemaker Teams Canada
The Council of Canadians
CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group
Dogwood Initiative
Earth Justice Initiative
Earthroots
ForestEthics
Greenpeace Canada
Green Press Initiative
Greenspiration
Indigenous Environmental Network
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
MiningWatch
Canada Rainforest Action Network
Rising Tide North America
Sierra Youth Coalition
Wildlands League

For more information, please contact:
Beth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext. 332