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Grassy Narrows Blockade: 2002-2016

by Judy Da Silva

Art Credit: Sylvia Nickerson: http://sylvianickerson.ca/
Art Credit: Sylvia Nickerson: http://sylvianickerson.ca/

December 2nd, 2002 was a freezing day.  It was the day our people desperately began blocking logging trucks, which were there to cut massive stands of our forest. Our trees were here one day and gone the next. The Anishinaabek have been closely tied to the land and water since time immemorial. It’s the lifeblood of our culture and way of life. The logging industry’s devastation of the land and water has effectively destroyed my people in all aspects: culturally, economically, and socially. I call logging, “genocide of my community.” Our people were up against the wall and we saw no choice but to stand up and act.

 

Grassy Narrows (AKA Asubpeeschoseewagong) is located in the north-western part of the Province of Ontario. We are in a boreal forest with one of the biggest fresh water reservoirs in the world. This region is called “Land of 10,000 lakes,” and is in the Precambrian Shield of Turtle Island. The land is rich in minerals, forest and water. The logging industry has been in our forest since I can remember. I drove behind logging trucks from childhood into adulthood. For generations, our people watched the logging go on and accepted it as the norm.

 

I think our mindset of acceptance changed after we heard the stories of broken-hearted hunters whose hunting grounds had been completely clear-cut in one week. The logging had accelerated to the point where the land began to look like a desert with shards of sticks from shredded trees on the desolate landscape. Humanity’s gluttonous, unhindered consumerism had hit at the heart of Anishinaabe country and we weren’t going to let it continue.

 

Our community is not unfamiliar with the consequences of corporate greed and government negligence. We have been in a long, ongoing fight against mercury poisoning. During the 1960’s, Dryden Paper Mill dumped 10 tonnes (9000 kg) of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River System, which flows right into our community. They did this without informing us. Our experiences with the destruction of our water helped determine the way we reacted to the destruction of our land by logging.

 

By 2002, our people were frustrated with the “dead end” complaint processes over the destruction of our forest by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Abitibi. We had no protectors except ourselves.

 

So on that cold winter day, one of our community members said, “We need to do something.” We set up a campfire on the side of the logging road about three kilometers from the reserve. By night, everyone had left except this one man. We went back to the comfort of our warm homes while he stayed. That night, even though he was scared, he stopped a logging truck from entering the forest. The next morning students showed up in full force, bringing the energy up at the blockade.

 

When our whole community had heard about this man’s actions, many community members, and supportive Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) began to help. The local media showed up, as well as the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). At first, the OPP tried to muscle our people and tell us what we were doing was illegal. Then they told us we were protected under the Canadian constitution and left.

 

The blockade still exists to this day! We have held walks to Toronto, Ontario and also to Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 2003 we did the first Earth Day walk from Grassy Narrows to Winnipeg. Now, every year there is an Earth Day 7th Generation Walk within that city. We continue to have gatherings and pow-wows at the blockade site. There are two log cabins there where people have stayed for fasting or general rejuvenation from city life. We have two wigwams. One has the Sacred Fire that was first lit in 2002.

 

We continue to use the blockade site as a place for spiritual rejuvenation, community events with meals, and to welcome visitors that want to find out about the blockade history. To this day no logging trucks have passed by here. In the fall of 2015, the Chief and Council conducted a community poll, with an election officer, asking the community if they wanted no logging, a little logging, or full-fledged logging. Our community gave a strong voice and said, “NO LOGGING.” We continue to stand against industry even though many of our people live in poverty.

 

For more information go to freegrassy.net,

Also check out the River Run 2016 in Toronto, Ontario; May 30 - June 3, 2016.


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