Grassy Narrows Brings Logging Fight to Supreme Court of Canada
On May 15, 14 years after Grassy Narrows’ case against logging began winding its way through the courts, the Supreme Court of Canada began hearing the First Nation’s legal case (Keewatin v. MNR) for Treaty Rights and against industrial clear-cut logging on their land. This case will have significant implications both locally and nationally.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation (or Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation, as it is traditionally called in Anishinaabek) and its community members have been involved in the longest running indigenous blockade in Cananda for over 10 years; but as has been discussed before, the history of injustice, colonialism, and contempt for the community is much longer.
There is a long history of Grassy Narrows facing environmental colonialism where industry and government collude to pollute the lands and bodies of the people in the region.
As was pointed out in todays media release, “Scientific studies indicate that clear-cut logging in boreal watersheds often raises mercury levels in fish above the World Health Organization’s advisable limit for human consumption. Recent clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows’ territory has likely deepened and prolonged the terrible impacts of mercury poison that began when a paper mill upstream in Dryden dumped 9,000 kg of mercury into Grassy Narrows' river between 1962 and 1970.”
This legal case, “challenges Ontario's jurisdiction to unilaterally award logging and mining licenses on a vast tract of Treaty 3 lands north of the English River (the Keewatin Lands). In Treaty 3, signed in 1873, Canada promised to respect the right of the Ojibway to hunt and fish in their territory. However, Ontario continues to plan for clearcut logging throughout Grassy Narrows’ Territory that will seriously limit Grassy Narrows’ rights, and has finalized a new 10 year Forest Management Plan for Grassy Narrows’ Territory that includes numerous large clearcuts permitted by Ontario against Grassy Narrows' will.”
While this new forestry plan was scheduled to take effect in April 2014, it has been delayed after widespread opposition across Ontario and through the work of Grassy Narrows youth and Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.
In response to the Ontario Government’s cavalier actions against Treaty Rights, in the 2011 ruling which was in favour of Grassy Narrows, Ontario Superior Court Justice Sanderson had harsh words for Ontario’s approach, “Ontario's approach to this litigation, while pleasantly civil, was strongly adversarial. Always focusing on its own proprietary rights, it downplayed the plain and clear reference in the Harvesting Clause to Canada. It characterized as a "mistake" what I have found to be [the Treaty Commissioners’] deliberate attempt to protect the Harvesting Rights of the Ojibway…” Yet, on March 18, 2013 The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned Justice Sanderson's ruling.
This outcome of this case will have significant effect on the people of Grassy Narrows. Many people are dependant on hunting and trapping after their fishery was poisoned with mercury. Clearcut logging has already negatively affected trapping lines and moose populations according locals and is further destroying the livelihoods of those who choose to live a traditional way of life. As Robert Janes stated, “what Grassy Narrows wants more than anything is to maintain its community ... a protection of its traditional way of life and finding a way of building a local, sustainable economy.”
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