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

Chilliwack-Kent 2020 provincial election candidates, clockwise from bottom left, Kelli Paddon (NDP), Eli Gagne (Libertarian), Jeff Hammersmark (Green), Jason Lum (Independent), and Laurie Throness, who began the campaign as a BC Liberal but left the party on Oct. 15.
Advance voting nears 5,000 in Chilliwack-Kent

More than 380,000 voters have voted in advance across B.C.

Owen Charpentier, 21, is charged with the Oct. 22, 2019 second-degree murder of Keith Baldwin in Chilliwack. (File)
Pre-trial dates set for Chilliwack man charged with Keith Baldwin’s murder

Owen Dale Charpentier accused in the fourth homicide of 2019 next in court June 2021

The 2020 Rotary Club of Chilliwack Book Sale is moving from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park to allow more room for physically-distanced shopping. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rotary Book Sale moves from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park

The hugely-popular book sale is going ahead Oct. 25-31 with pandemic protocols in place

Organizers of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival have decided to end the event after more than 20 years. / Bob Friesen File Photo
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival cancelled – for good

Organizers say the event was so popular that too many people were attending to be sustainable

Massimo Rizzo (Penticton Vees, BCHL), middle, tries to out-maneuver two Team Canada East players during a preliminary game at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge. Team Canada West won the all-Canadian matchup 6-1.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images
Chilliwack Chiefs acquire Massimo Rizzo from Coquitlam Express

Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney has high expectations this season, and this trade is a sign of that

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. sees record-breaking daily COVID infections with 499 new cases over weekend

Two people, both in the Lower Mainland, died due to the virus over the weekend

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Surrey teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 after an altercation left an elderly man in critical condition. (File photo)
Trial dates set in White Rock manslaughter case

Proceedings against Ross Banner, 71, set for June 2021 in Surrey Provincial Court

Most Read