Grassy Narrows First Nation chief not ‘a believer’ in PM’s reconciliation pledge

Staff from Grassy Narrows met Tuesday with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to discuss progress on the mercury treatment facility

Grassy Narrows First Nation chief not ‘a believer’ in PM’s reconciliation pledge

An Ontario First Nation suffering from generations of mercury poisoning still needs a treatment centre and help for children harmed by the toxic metal, its chief said Wednesday.

Until Grassy Narrows gets aid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised, its Chief Rudy Turtle said, he won’t think much of Trudeau’s commitment to reconciliation.

A few blocks away in a downtown Ottawa hotel, Trudeau told an assembly of First Nations chiefs on Tuesday that his Liberal government “will start from a place of partnership” with Indigenous people, recognizing their rights without being dragged to it by courts, and seeking to make that a precedent for all future Canadian governments.

“When I hear him say that, first of all, I am not really a believer,” Turtle told a news conference on Parliament Hill. “If he is serious about having a legacy, then it is time that he meet with Grassy Narrows, that he meet with the chief and council, that he meet with our people, that he stand in front of our people and talk to our people.”

Turtle, speaking alongside others from his community near Ontario’s border with Manitoba, said Grassy Narrows really needs its treatment facility for people with mercury poisoning. Their local river was doused with waste mercury from an upstream chemical plant for years in the 1960s and 1970s, contaminating the water, the fish that live in it, and the people who consumed both.

The symptoms of mercury poisoning include impaired peripheral vision, muscle weakness, impaired speech, hearing and cognitive function and numbness or stinging pain in the extremities and mouth. The damage from prolonged exposure can be irreversible.

Staff from Grassy Narrows met Tuesday with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to discuss progress on the mercury treatment facility, Turtle added.

“We would like it to move faster,” he said.

Philpott said in a statement late Wednesday the government is actively working to support the construction of the facility and thanked the community for presenting a completed feasibility study last week. She said the community and the government agreed to stay in close contact on the project.

The chief was also joined by Donna Mergler, a neurophysiologist affiliated with the Universite du Quebec a Montreal and the lead author of a newly released report documenting the impacts of mercury on Grassy Narrows’ young people.

The report details how mercury exposure, particularly in utero, compounds the physical and mental health problems that are consistently reported in First Nations communities in Canada. Mergler recommended that Grassy Narrows get better food and extra school resources to help children born with mercury-related disabilities.

Judy Da Silva, a mother from the community, said on Parliament Hill that she’s concerned about Grassy Narrows’ next generation.

“I am a mother of five children,” she said, pausing to note her own deteriorating health before she sat down in a chair. ”I worry about their future and for me that’s why I keep pushing myself … I know it is a hard fight.”

Earlier Wednesday, Philpott spoke at length at the second day of the AFN’s meeting in Ottawa on the Liberal government’s commitment to First Nations, including its proposed legislation on Indigenous child services. Last week, the federal government announced plans to introduce legislation on child services co-developed with Indigenous groups in the new year.

Families should not be torn apart because they are poor or because parents have health problems, she said.

“I don’t think any of us are naive,” she said. “We don’t think a piece of legislation will all by itself turn the tide on what’s going on in this country. But I believe it can be a turning point.”

Kristy Kirkup and Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

Fernie Meat Market owner Mark Brown with the newest addition to his Griz Pins collection. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Griz Days this weekend!

The 44th annual Griz Days will be mostly online

STA members and non-members alike are encouraged to send in photos of their trail adventures. (Photo contributed by Scott Tibballs)
STA plots another trail for Lunch Network

The network will consist of 6km of trail outside of Sparwood

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

The Elk River Pedestrian Bridge in Sparwood could be at risk without mitigation works. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood secures grant funding for bridge repairs

The district has secured $703,000 in funding from UBCM

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read