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

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Saanich council seeks more information after hearing Uptown-Douglas plan

Council asks for further reports on economic, housing, transportation plans for corridor

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Victoria police seize replica handgun and bullets

Unrelated call leads police to functional replica

Flaming object thrown through Victoria restaurant window

Police looking for any witnesses to early-morning incident

Man arrested after stabbing incident at makeshift camp near Vancouver Island mall

RCMP in Parksville report 28-year-old man taken into custody without incident

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Lawsuit launched after Florida child handcuffed, booked and briefly jailed

Suit alleges “deliberate indifference” to what should have been handled as a behavioural issue

Russia approves vaccine, Putin hopes to begin mass production

Critic calls decision to proceed without thorough testing ‘dangerous and grossly immoral’

Most Read