Crown to blame for tragedy

There is a deeply-tragic series of events that has led to economic exclusion and physical endangerment of the people of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations on their own territory.
It is completely unacceptable and the fault for this lies exclusively with the Crown.
As we all know, relations between the Crown and First Nations have been unnecessarily complicated and disrespectful since colonizers from Britain and France first arrived on this territory hundreds of years ago.
The people of Canada are not alone in these struggles as they exist everywhere that expansionist colonies were established around the world.
But we have all the means necessary here to start the process to make things right for those who have shared their territory, fought alongside the Crown in mutual defence, and who share a very intertwined and, hopefully, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous future with those whose ancestors arrived after them from abroad.
Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the territorial rights and health concerns of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations are a stark and sad example of all that is wrong with the current relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations.
The two dominant issues in this particular case—territorial rights and the physical health of the people of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations—are both related and extremely serious.
The more immediate issue of the physical health of the people in these affected First Nations is one that is different from other similar situations across Canada.
To summarize this urgent health matter in this short space; the people of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations have suffered for years from Minamata disease caused by the contamination of their traditional territories with mercury from forestry operations in Dryden during the 1960s.
The provincial and federal governments have known this for some time, thanks to reports they have commissioned and others they have read, but both governments (representing the Crown) have done little to nothing to assist these residents, end the mercury contamination and poisoning, or prevent such a catastrophe from occurring in the future.
In a 2010 report entitled “Mercury Pollution in First Nations Groups in Ontario, Canada: 35 years of Canadian Minamata Disease,” researchers examined the health of 160 adults from Grassy Narrows and nearby Wabaseemoong First Nations.
The research found that “33.7 percent [54 people] of the target group would be diagnosed as Minamata Disease patients,” and that “a total of 58.7 percent [94 people] was affected by mercury.”
In short, the people of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations are the innocent victims of bad corporate behaviour tolerated by an indifferent Crown, which first failed in its obligation to protect and now is failing in its obligation to redress.
What could possibly make this situation worse for the people of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations? The answer is the exact same scenario playing out, again, today.
In late July, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Province of Ontario, representing the Crown, has exclusive jurisdiction over the logging and forestry rights of much of the land that is occupied and territorially belongs to these First Nations.
The only protection for these people is the caveat that if this ruling results in the loss of their meaningful right to hunt, fish, or trap in relation to these territories, then a potential action for treaty infringement will arise.
Unfortunately, as a result of this Supreme Court ruling, the same exact scenario must play out today if there is ever to be change–Crown-approved industrial activity and contamination, the poisoning of a population, and loss of traditional way of life.
This is a morally reprehensible and unjust ruling and situation for the people of these First Nations.
In closing, we must remember a few important facts. It was the Crown that allowed industrial activity to go unchecked in Dryden, which led to the mercury contamination, and the Crown that ignored the large-scale Minamata poisoning of the people of the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations.
It’s also been the Crown that has done nothing meaningful to assist those who are suffering—the Crown that now is set to allow new logging on the territory of the territory of these First Nations.
And rest assured, it will be the Crown that will bear all responsibility if this shameful cycle repeats itself again.

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