Grassy Narrows woman wins international peace award
Grassy Narrows’ Judy Da Silva has been honoured with a German peace prize for her grassroots activism.
“It was really amazing because it came from Germany, on the other side of the world,” Da Silva said about the award on June 6, after returning from a 22-day trip to Germany. “And from a whole group of people I never thought it would come from.”
The German Mennonite Peace Committee presented Da Silva with the Michael Sattler Peace Prize for her leadership on Grassy Narrows’ decade-long blockade against unwanted logging during a May 20 ceremony at the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter’s in the Black Forest near Freiburg, Germany.
“We want to award the prize to Judy Da Silva in order to honour the nonviolent resistance of the Grassy Narrows First Nation against the destruction of nature and for the preservation of their Indigenous culture,” said Lorens Theissen van Esch, a member of the German Mennonite Peace Committee.
Michael Sattler was a monk who left the Roman Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation to become one of the early leaders of the Anabaptist movement. He was executed by burning after severe torture in 1527.
“They gave me the award because of Grassy Narrows’ nonviolent and peaceful values and peaceful protection of the land,” Da Silva said. “We never use violence.”
Da Silva said people were surprised to hear about environmental destruction in Canada during her 22-day tour.
“Their vision of Canada was as the champion of environmental protection, the champion of human rights,” Da Silva said. “When I told them of the injustices to the Anishinabe people and the pollution that is being created by huge industries like the tar sands and the logging, then they are very shocked. So they are saying across there that Canada is being shown in a different light. They’re amazed to hear the truth.”
Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister also spoke during the ceremony, which featured a number of dignitaries from Germany.
Da Silva was surprised to see how the land was structured during her visit to Germany, noting there are about 84 million people living in the European country on a land base that is about one-third the size of Ontario.
“I was amazed that they had so much forest for such a populated land,” Da Silva said. “I thought they were really crowded, but when I saw how organized they were to function on such a small piece of land, then I saw how amazing humans can be to adapt.”
Da Silva said the forests are more crowded in Germany than on her community’s traditional lands.
“I can drive into the forest for an hour and not see anybody and then go camp and then maybe I will see one person going by depending on where I go,” Da Silva said. “But them, they say you can go find an isolated spot deep in the forest and about half an hour later somebody will either bike or walk by — there’s no quiet.”
The German members of the Peace Committee first learned about Grassy Narrows’ struggles during a delegation to the Treaty #3 community co-organized in association with the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
“Judy was an excellent candidate for this award as she devotes her free time and her life to living her values as a protector of our natural environment,” said Lucille McKenzie, council woman at Grassy Narrows. “All Judy’s hard work has been instrumental in protecting the natural environment of Grassy Narrows and our people.”
McKenzie said the community as a whole has been instrumental in paving the way for the protection of their environment and having a greater say in their traditional hunting grounds and territories.
“Grassy Narrows is currently in the process of appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the Keewatin Case, also known as trappers litigation, which asserts the inherent rights of our people to the land for hunting and trapping,” McKenzie said. “The Keewatin Case has also been a driver for the province to raise its standards in the consultation and accommodation of our people.”
Da Silva said the people in Germany were “very welcoming and very receptive to us.”
“A lot of them didn’t have those preconceived images of Anishinabe,” Da Silva said. “So they treated us well — they treated us like human beings.”
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