Grassy Narrows and Westman First Nation members are watching with increasing concern as representatives of the Ontario government try to impose a long-debated mining plan on them at the expense of environmental standards.
The former Senate parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage in Ontario, Cathy Creighton, recently took the unusual step of stating publicly that if community concerns are not considered, the proposed mining operation will be located in a wilderness area rather than the land it is supposedly protecting. The conclusion is obvious. Such a mine has been proposed for many years and this would be the first time a mining proposal was made to threaten one of the most ecologically and culturally vital places in Canada.
The author of our most recent book, “Canada’s Half-Century of Aboriginal Rights,” Carol Ross, says the Grassy Narrows National Historic Site and the 11 Boreal communities in the region are integral parts of Canadian history. She notes that as a result of successive generations of First Nations actions and effective conservation policies, Western Canada now has a safe and well-maintained ecosystem in a basin which retains 75 percent of the original highland permafrost and has the largest remaining animal populations remaining in Canada, she said. “It is in the Canadian soul,” she added.
For decades, families from Grassy Narrows and Westman First Nation have made countless sacrifices so their children could preserve the healthy environment in which they have lived in comfort and safety. The watersheds serve as sanctuaries for indigenous people who find a sense of spiritual reconnection in preserving nature and the wild streams which serve as their primary source of subsistence and drinking water.
It is no surprise that people have chosen to conserve this land for themselves as a way of valuing and making sense of their continued existence as a First Nation community and as individuals. We don’t find their solutions attractive to many people and without accountability, their efforts will be doomed to failure. Given the progress made over the years, the Grassy Narrows National Historic Site is an integral part of what makes Grassy Narrows such a successful community as is the compactness of the community which has a high graduation rate of 93 percent.
If the Ontario government has to make a hard decision regarding development of the proposed mine, it should take seriously the argument that this site is more valuable preserved as a national park. Meanwhile, let us be clear that our family’s family does not have a major stake in the mining project — the current owner has millions of dollars — it is our experience, on-site, that the population is in tune with the traditional lifestyle and time being is absolutely essential.
The only productive activity we see coming out of the township is as a result of the safety effort of the current owners. There are no plans to disturb any agricultural lands in the area and we feel sorry for the people who will have to remove their children from their own studies and grandchildren as they walk their dogs to retrieve eggs, poop or forages for food in the fall.
When considering industrial development, it is never wise to consider what is there in the future. It is important for those who are making decisions to research everything they can to be sure that we have the right decision for us and our kids.