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Grassy Narrows Chief welcomes Wynne’s clean-up promise and calls for swift results

February 13, 2017

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister is responding today to a new commitment made on Friday by premier Wynne to clean the English-Wabigoon River. The river has been highly contaminated since 1962 when a paper company in Dryden began dumping 9,000 kg of untreated mercury waste into the river - contaminating the fish and poisoning three generations of people in Grassy Narrows and two neighbouring First Nations. Until 1970 Grassy Narrows had near full employment in fishing businesses and fish are still a central part of Grassy Narrows’ traditional diet and culture.

“Premier Wynne clearly promised to me that she would clean up our river and the Dryden mill site,” said Chief Simon Fobister. “Premier Wynne promised me that Grassy Narrows would lead the clean-up and that it would begin as soon as humanly possible. I welcome this historic commitment and I am eager to work to make this promise a reality so that my people can enjoy our culture and our homeland in health again without fear of an invisible poison. When our fish are safe to eat we will know that this promise has been kept.”

Grassy Narrows people have been calling for a clean-up of their river for over 40 years, and have been joined by activists, organizations, scientists, and individuals from around the world. Their spirited efforts have long been at the forefront of the growing movement for indigenous sovereignty, and for environmental and social justice.

“This commitment must be followed by swift action and results so that my people who have been thirsting for justice for 40 years can finally see improvement in their lives. I acknowledge our many family members who have suffered terribly from mercury, and our loved ones who have lost their lives to this preventable tragedy. Our ongoing resolve to see this through will honour their memory.”

“I thank the grassroots people of Grassy Narrows, and our supporters who have been tireless in their work to gain justice for mercury survivors at long last. We continue to call for a dignified Mercury Home for survivors in our community, a fair mercury compensation system, top quality health care, and a permanent Grassy Narrows environmental health monitoring station.”

Wynne has now committed to implementing without delay a clean-up plan that will be developed by Grassy Narrows’ scientists and approved by Grassy Narrows. The commitments were made in a face-to-face meeting with Chief Simon Fobister in Toronto on Friday.

World class mercury experts report that Grassy Narrows’ river remains highly contaminated with mercury, but that it can and must be cleaned up. In May, scientists stated that the ongoing high levels of mercury in fish and sediment in the Wabigoon River indicate that there is an ongoing, but unidentified, source of mercury to the river. The experts have recommended that Ontario find and stop the ongoing source of mercury, while speeding up the natural recovery of the river by augmenting the processes that prevent mercury from entering the food chain.

Mercury contaminated soil was recently found behind the Dryden mill where a former worker says he buried 50 drums of salt and mercury haphazardly in a shallow pit in 1972.

Mercury is a potent neuro-toxin that damages the brain and nervous system leading to loss of vision, touch, balance, and coordination as well as learning disabilities with lifelong impacts.

For source documents and background contact:

For more information contact:
Chief Simon Fobister
Phone: 807-407-0170

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