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Grassy Narrows, NDP call for action on mercury poisoning

Monday August 25, 2014
Steve Fobister Sr.

Grassy Narrows and the New Democratic Party are calling for “real action” on mercury poisoning in the Treaty #3 community.

“We’re calling for the government to update the whole (Mercury Disability) Board,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister Sr. “So (Aboriginal Affairs) Minister (David) Zimmer did commit to reviewing the Mercury Disability Board and we’ll see if it’s just going to be another review that doesn’t go anywhere. We want action and we feel that the people of Grassy Narrows should all receive the same level of compensation.”

Zimmer announced his intention to champion the review on July 29, noting he needs to get the approval of Wabaseemoong First Nation and the federal government to conduct a review.

“They are the other parties to the Mercury Disability Board and they will need to agree to any reforms,” Zimmer said in his statement. “I made a specific commitment to Steve Fobister that this review will look at the level of the current benefits provided by the board.”

Steve Fobister Sr., a respected Grassy Narrows Elder and former Treaty #3 grand chief, held a hunger strike at Queens Park on July 29 to demand justice for mercury survivors. He suffers daily from the debilitating neurological impacts of mercury poison.

“The mercury poisoning of Grassy Narrows First Nation has caused significant harm that is still being felt by the community today, and local leaders like former Treaty #3 grand chief Steve Fobister, Sr. are risking their own health in hunger strikes to try to force the government to address the problem,” said NDP Aboriginal Affairs Critic Sarah Campbell, who is also the MPP for the Kenora-Rainy River riding. “The government owes it to residents to release any information they have about the issue, and to take concrete steps to address ongoing health, nutrition and environmental issues stemming from the industrial waste.”

About nine tonnes of mercury was dumped into the English-Wabigoon River, which flows past Grassy Narrows, between 1962 and 1970.

“The mercury pollution is still in the river because it has never been cleaned up,” Chief Fobister said. “Unless the government were to clean up the river system, then the mercury pollution, sickness and issues would go away.” Chief Fobister said all Grassy Narrows community members should be compensated because the “mercury is right there” in the river.

“Eventually the mercury makes its way up the food chain right up to the level of the people who eat the fish,” he said. “That’s why we brought up the (Grassy Narrows mercury) report — we want action.”

The report, revealed on July 28, indicated that the provincial government has been aware, since 2009 at least, that mercury survivors are receiving inadequate health care, and most are not receiving any compensation.

“The people of Grassy Narrows are being left to deal with the consequences of industrial mercury dumping, while the government sat on a report for years that quite possibly validates what residents and leaders like Treaty #3 Grand Chief Warren White and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, Sr. have been saying,” Campbell said. “The government owes it to the Grassy Narrows First Nation, and the people of Ontario, to publicly release the report and its recommendations.”

Chief Fobister is looking forward to a visit by Zimmer on Aug. 20.

“Minister Zimmer will be here on Aug. 20, right here in our community, and we will discuss the next steps,” he said.

Campbell also called on the province to commit to a mercury treatment centre for Grassy Narrows mercury poison survivors.

“Three generations of people in Grassy Narrows have suffered from the long term impact of mercury poisoning and it will continue to affect future generations,” Campbell said. “A health centre for the treatment and study of mercury poisoning has the potential to alleviate suffering, create local jobs and become a hub of scientific and medical research and innovation.”

Chief Fobister said more research needs to be done on the mercury poisoning in his community.

“The Japanese research that they do on Minamata disease is quite more advanced than the research that’s been done in Canada,” he said. “We should treat our mercury pollution and the resulting sicknesses more seriously in Canada. And the government should acknowledge that it exists and that it is a continuing problem.”

First discovered in Japan in 1956, Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech.


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