Frustrated Grassy Narrows youth erect blockade
Hundreds of Grassy Narrows supporters and a 70-person marching samba band marched on the home of Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto this past weekend to draw attention to the mercury poisoning in the Treaty 3 community. Water around Grassy Narrows First Nation has been contaminated with mercury since a local paper mill poured an estimated 10 tonnes of neurotoxins into the system between 1962 and 1970.
An Aug. 22 a blockade to protect sacred areas at Keys Lake, south of Grassy Narrows, was one of the highlights of the Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering.
Three days later hundreds of Grassy Narrows supporters marched on the home of Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne to draw attention to the community’s issues, in particular the contamination of its water.
“That lake is a spring water lake — there is a little spring water stream that goes into that lake and the water is very clear there,” said Edmond Jack, a Grassy Narrows youth who has participated in many environmental protest walks and organized his first walk at age 17.
“Every summer we go down there is a lot of beer bottles and garbage everywhere. People don’t have any respect for that place — and that place is a really sacred place to our people around here because that is where they always did their spring feasting for that water. That was the place to go to get the best water.”
Jack said the lake is very deep and is home to sturgeon.
“Sturgeon is really meaningful to us because inside the sturgeon’s heart is a natural formation of a medicine wheel,” Jack said. “People really respect that fish because he lives on the bottom, close to the earth like we do.”
Although no boaters showed up at the lake during the blockade, which included some ceremonies, Jack said a group of canoeists did stop at the protest site.
“We had the road blocked off, we had people sitting up there with banners stretched across the road so nobody could get through,” Jack said. “The whole purpose of doing (the blockade) is to show people that we still occupy this land and we still use it.”
Grassy Narrow’s Chrissy Swain said Keys Lake is an important area for the community.
“My grandfather told me people used to fast on the cliffs there,” Swain said. “And in one area there is a big turtle and straight across the lake from where that turtle is pointing, there used to be a Midewiwin lodge.”
Swain said her mother and her son also have a trapline on the lake.
“Our people still use that place and to me I feel that lake is really sacred because it’s pure, its clean water coming from inside the earth and there are cedar trees all around that whole lake,” Swain said.
“Even just going in and swimming and then coming out, you feel alive because it is so clean.”
The Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering, held from Aug. 20-22, featured a variety of traditional teachings, a fish fry feast, a mini powwow, a sweatlodge, environmental discussions, a talent show, team building exercises and hand drumming.
Mishkeegogamang’s Erin Bottle attended the gathering to show solidarity between Treaty 9 and Treaty 3 citizens.
“I made a stance with Grassy Narrows to stand with them as a NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation) member with their stance of no more destruction of traditional territories and lands,” Bottle said. “My stance today was in unity with them to show our people in NAN territory that even though there are European treaties that Europeans had placed in front of us and before us and signed by our ancestors; these treaties do not divide us as a nation, as a people, as Anishinabeg.”
Bottle said the protection of water is not just an important issue for the Anishinabe, it is an important issue for all humanity.
“It is for all of our peoples to protect our last remaining resource of water,” Bottle said.
“They’re proposing a lot of mining developments on a lot of sacred sites, sacred rivers and lakes, and that is very destructive and a direct assault on our spirituality and our culture.”
Bottle said Anishinabe women were originally the titleholders of minerals before contact.
“We never relinquished that right,” Bottle said. “Those minerals are what is used in the purification ceremonies.”
“No more. Enough is enough in our traditional territories and lands. No more negotiations, no more ‘I got an Indian agreement to destroy our traditional territories and lands.’”
Bottle warned that future generations of Anishinabe will be affected by the destruction of water resources on their traditional territories and lands.
“I’m 100 per cent opposed to the Ring of Fire because it will destroy ancient, underwater systems that connect natural spring water lakes in our territories,” Bottle said.
Bottle said the blockade was “very peaceful,” with a sacred fire and “a lot of networking and a lot of talking.”
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