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

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

Under new ownership, Cowichan’s Isles prepare for 2020-21

The Isles have gone through some ups and downs in recent seasons

Cowichan Valley Regional District will reopen three arenas in August

Ice will go back in at Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Community Centre and Kerry Park

Business notes: Salt Spring Therapeutic Riding Association launches program for front-line workers

A sample of what’s happening in Cowichan’s business community

UPDATE: RCMP use spike belts to end car chase — man in custody

The driver was arrested at the scene a short distance from his vehicle

Motorcyclist airlifted after collision in Cobble Hill

Residents describe intersection of Telegraph and Hutchinson as “dangerous” and “problematic”

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

RCMP looking for missing teen in Comox Valley

Jenessa Shacter was last seen going for a walk in downtown Courtenay

B.C. wildfire crews have battled 111 blazes in the last seven days

Twenty-nine fires remain active, as of Friday (Aug 7)

‘We don’t make the rules’: Okanagan pub owner says staff harassed over pandemic precautions

‘If you have six people plus a baby, guess what? That’s seven’ - West Kelowna Kelly O’Bryan’s owner

T-Rex earns big bids at B.C. dino auction

Over 500 dino-themed lots sold to buyers from across North America

Remembering Brent Carver: A legend of Broadway who kept his B.C. roots strong

Over the years, the Cranbrook thespian earned his place as one of Canada’s greatest actors

Statistics Canada says country gained 419,000 jobs in July

National unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July, down from the 12.3 per cent recorded in June

Canada plans $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. in aluminium dispute

The new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA went into force on July 1

Canada ‘profoundly concerned’ over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu Weihong’s home

Most Read