Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) and the federal government recently signed a framework agreement for $19.5 million in funding for construction of a mercury care home, supporting a community-envisioned design.
“They made an announcement today that they’ve finally come to an agreement that they are going to build and bring home a facility to treat the mercury poisoning,” says Grand Council Treaty #3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh. “For me, I’m a bit sad — it reminds me of two great leaders we lost recently who worked tirelessly to bring home this facility. They are not here anymore but I’d like to reflect back on them and think highly of their efforts to bring this home. It’s the fruition of what some of them worked on so I congratulate them on that.”
Kavanaugh adds that it has been 50 years since mercury contamination was discovered in the English-Wabigoon River system in 1970.
“What they did impacted (the community’s) livelihood,” Kavanaugh says. “They used to have a huge dependence on walleye fishing. As well, walleye is a staple food and that went with the discovery of the mercury. The poisoning has harmed successive generations of families who have been and continue to be impacted. The devastation is also immeasurable for individuals who now suffer with impaired vision, loss of sense, loss of taste, hands and legs tingle and some twitch as if jabbed by pins.”
Kavanaugh says children are also experiencing learning disabilities in school.
“So that is a huge impact of what dumping of that mercury did to this community,” Kavanaugh says.
The mercury care home will provide access to health services to meet the needs of community residents who are living with methylmercury poisoning. The mercury contamination of the English-Wabigoon River system caused high levels of mercury exposure among people residing in Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek and Wabaseemoong.
“The health of the residents of Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and hearts,” says Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services. “This historic framework agreement is the beginning of an important turning point. Reflecting on what should have happened a long time ago, I take great pride and promise in what can be done so that specialized care can be accessed, and close to home. I also recognize the work and trust of Chief Turtle putting what he believes in his heart to be just at the centre of his advocacy.”
In addition to funding construction of the mercury care home, the federal government is also working towards obtaining additional funding to support the operation of the mercury care home as well as working with the community’s leadership on the expansion and renovation of the community’s current health facility.
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, congratulated the community’s leadership on securing an agreement with the federal government for full funding to build a mercury care home.
“For generations of people who have been poisoned by the water in their community, this step forward offers some relief,” Mamakwa says. “The advocacy work of the community has been ongoing for decades, and today we honour the youth, Elders and community citizens who have worked hard for so long to see this happen. Grassy Narrows has waited a long time for justice for the suffering their people have faced since the mercury was released into the Wabigoon river 60 years ago, damaging their way of life on their land, and their health.”
Mamakwa says the mercury care home needs not only construction funding, but also ongoing operations funding.
“And the community needs more help to work towards remediation,” Mamakwa says. “The provincial government cannot turn its back on Grassy Narrows, pretending the responsibility is all federal. It will take everyone working together to, someday, once again ensure the fish from the Wabigoon River are safe to eat and the waters are safe to drink.”