Hundreds of people joined a demonstration at Queens Park in Toronto the other day. Here are some of them.
I think it's safe to say most of them have not been to Grassy Narrows First Nation (Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg), down the Wabigoon and English Rivers from Dryden, Ontario. Yet there they were this week demonstrating for justice for this far away group of people.
The paper mill in Dryden used the river for a sewer for many years. So did lots of industries across the province. So do some of them still. When I was an occasional visitor to Dryden in the summer of 1971, I noticed the distinctive paper mill smell all over town, and that the foam in the river ran different colours depending what kind of paper was in production: canary, blue, green, salmon. (That last one's a little ironic.) What I couldn't see or smell was the mercury going into the water.
Mercury is a very nasty brain and nerve poison. Science teachers no longer let students roll the stuff around in their hands like we did, I'm sure. The people of Grassy Narrows (and other reserves with the same environmental issue) didn't have a choice, though. They were eating the stuff in the fish from the river, a staple of their diet. Until they began to have problems with balance, vision, pain, speech and so on. (Check out Minimata Disease to find out how dreadful are the symptoms.)
All this time later, things are still not right. Ontario and Canada have done some remarkable things for the sake of right relations over the decades. And there is still much more to do. People need to be able to drink the water and eat the fish. It's a human right. They need to believe that they are not throwaways, that we matter to each other.
Harm done to any of us is harm done to all of us. Congratulations to the people of Asabiinyashkosiwagong for their persistence over two generations. You do matter. Congratulations to all those who turned up to walk with them in a show of solidarity. Congratulations to Members of Provincial Parliament who take the matter seriously and commit to addressing the needs of the victims of the poisoning, and to cleaning up the environment here and everywhere across the province.
Posted by Robin Wardlaw