Honouring the struggle for environmental justice at Grassy Narrows
“You look at the lake, it looks good, it looks clean, the fish look all right. How to believe that something like that could turn against you?” – former Grassy Narrows Chief Steve Fobister Sr. quoted in the Toronto Star
Steve Fobister. Bill Fobister. Judy Da Silva. These are some of the leaders and activists from Grassy Narrows who have played a critical in shaping and informing Amnesty International’s longstanding campaign for justice for that First Nation.
They are all, in every sense of the word, human rights champions.
They also, all three, suffer from the devastating, debilitating impacts of mercury poisoning.
And they are not alone.
Expert researchers from Minamata Japan have concluded that more than 90 percent of the people of Grassy Narrows and the neighbouring Wabaseemoong First Nation have mercury poisoning, also known as Minamata disease.
Over the last year, the people of Grassy Narrows have won tremendous victories. The government of Ontario has finally agreed to work with the community to clean up the river system. And the federal government has made a promise to provide specialized medical care for the community.
But these breakthroughs come more than a half century after the province first allowed an upstream pulp mill to dump massive quantities of mercury into the river system that is the lifeblood of Grassy Narrows.
And these actions by the provincial and federal governments, while important and welcome, also come after years of denial that a devastating health crisis at Grassy Narrows could be traced to the poisoning of their waters.
We now know, thanks to the efforts of activists from Grassy Narrows and their allies -- and the work of a few investigative reporters like David Bruser and Jayme Poisson from the Toronto Star -- that federal and provincial government departments have long had more than enough evidence to know that they should take action:
- Since at least 2011, the province has had data showing that levels of mercury in fish caught near Grassy Narrows are elevated far above Canadian standards - from some waters, as much as 90 times higher than the recommended level of mercury exposure for women
- Medical data collected by the federal government since the late 1970s shows that even before birth children at Grassy Narrows have been exposed to high enough levels of mercury to be harmful to their development
- In the early 1980s, an expert panel reported to the federal and provincial governments that mercury in river sediment could and should be cleaned up
- The province received information about a possible new source of upstream mercury contamination in 1990.
This Thursday, as the international community marks World Water Day, the people of Grassy Narrows will be holding a vigil in the town of Dryden, Ontario where mercury was first released into their river – and where evidence suggests mercury continues to leach into the water.
The vigil will honour all those who have been lost to mercury poisoning or who still suffer today.
We encourage all Amnesty International members to join this vigil in spirit.
As we continue to press the federal and provincial governments to honour their promises to the people of Grassy Narrows, we must bear in mind that so much of this harm could have been avoided if the federal and provincial governments had acted sooner.
>>> Learn more and show your support: http://freegrassy.net/2018/03/19/mercury-survivor-vigil-on-world-water-day/