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Long past time! Tell Ottawa to build mercury care home in Grassy Narrows

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In AWARE News Network
Nov 3rd, 2019
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 Chief Simon Fobister, commenting on one of many federal promises to his community, before his death three months ago.

Sons of late Grassy Narrows Chief travel to Toronto to demand action from federal government

from Free Grassy

The former Chief of Grassy Narrows, Simon Fobister, passed away recently. This week his two sons travelled to Toronto to call on the new federal government to deliver the Mercury Care Home that was promised to their father almost two years ago.

Please share their calls for justice: Grassy Narrows community members are hoping that the new minority government will act quickly to address the ongoing mercury crisis and build the Mercury Home which then Minister Jane Philpott promised Canada would build and operate in November of 2017.

Three of the major national parties committed during the election to build the Mercury Home (Liberal, NDP, Green), however, the Liberals have so far only offered half the construction cost and a quarter of the operating cost for the facility.

The revered former Chief Simon Fobister was buried in Grassy Narrows on August 10 at the age of 63 of causes including the toxic effects of mercury, according to his family and community leaders. He died 550 km from his home in a hospital in Thunder Bay, far from family members.

As the sons of late Simon Fobister said this week, a Mercury Home would mean that Grassy Narrows people can get treatment close to home and allow family members to visit.

Let’s help get this message out to Prime Minister Trudeau so that no more time is wasted.

Thank you for your ongoing support

AWARE Simcoe note: Tell your MP to put pressure on the government to do the right thing by the people of Grassy Narrows. Enter your postal code here and get his/her contact information 

Sons of former Grassy Narrows chief continue his fight

By Tanya Talaga Toronto Star

I first met Simon Fobister nearly 10 years ago at the Steelworkers’ Hall in downtown Toronto.

This week, I returned to that hall to celebrate Simon’s life, and contemplate yet again the injustice that took it from him and that has cost his community more than can be measured.

Simon was 63 when he died in August from, among other things, complications due to mercury poisoning. On Monday in Toronto, his sons Brian and Leroy gathered with members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation community to remember the former Grassy chief. Fobister was a true champion who spent most of his life pushing governments and corporations to clean up the 10 tonnes of mercury dumped in the English and Wabigoon River system during the 1960s and 1970s.

Mercury doesn’t disappear easily. It sits in the water, where it is absorbed by fish, and then it’s absorbed by people who eat the fish. That’s what poisoned Simon Fobister.

And not just him. All five of his sons and nearly everyone living at Grassy Narrows and down river at Wabasseemoong (White Dog) First Nation have been harmed by the mercury.

Imagine living next to something so toxic that it made generations of your family ill with the chronic and degenerative impacts of mercury poisoning: tremors, slurred speech, impaired hearing and more.

Simon Fobister was a warrior for his community, pushing hard in his later years for a health care centre so that those Grassy residents in need of specialized medical care for mercury toxicity would no longer have to travel to hospitals in cities far away.

Now his sons are continuing the fight.

“I just want to be at home,” Leroy told me. “I don’t understand why we are still fighting this.”

Rudy Turtle, the current Grassy chief, tried to bring the issue to Ottawa himself, entering the fray of colonial politics by running in the riding of Kenora as an NDP candidate. It was a tight race but Turtle lost to Conservative Eric Melillo. It’s telling that a 21-year-old rookie won over a chief battling to save his community.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, who has travelled to Grassy, promised that Ottawa would build the health centre. But, as the Star’s David Bruser reported in July, the federal government has in fact committed only $10.5 million — far less than the true cost to build and run a home, according to a feasibility study.

Also in the Steelworkers’ Hall on Monday was Judy DaSilva, a member of the Grassy Narrows First Nation. I met her in April 2010, at a rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the provincial ban on fishing in the river system due to the mercury pollution.

DaSilva broke down with emotion after watching a video of Simon that was made to educate others about the community’s plight.

She said Ottawa’s enthusiasm for the Grassy health centre seems to have all but evaporated since Jane Philpott left the Indigenous services ministry, noting that Philpott “is the one who really helped us.”

The promise to provide enough money to build and run a health centre for Grassy residents now seems dormant. DaSilva hopes NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who promised in his platform to build and pay for the centre, will exert influence in the new minority Parliament to get it done.

Of course, the health centre is not the community’s only concern. Mercury remains in the water and the fish and the soil, and governments have been woefully slow to do anything about it.

In the spring of 2018, premier Kathleen Wynne put $85 million in trust to clean up Grassy. That money is now being spent by an engineering firm to map exactly where the mercury is hiding in the 200-kilometre river system.

DaSilva said once the sampling is done and the sources of the mercury have been identified, the money that remains won’t be nearly enough actually to clean the water.

“We are going to keep pushing on the mercury (health centre) and for justice on all levels,” DaSilva said, “and for more humane treatment of our people in the health system.”

One Response to “Long past time! Tell Ottawa to build mercury care home in Grassy Narrows”

  1. Ann says:

    It’s a complete disgrace the way this issue at Grassy Narrows has been dealt with by both the Federal and Provincial governments over the last 50 years!
    If this had happened in a community anywhere else, it would have been looked after and cleaned up right away!
    SHAME! SHAME!

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