By Ahni on August 24, 2010
A group of Clan Mothers and other members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation have returned to the site of their high profile logging blockade to stop the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) from interfering with road repairs on their traditional territory.
The First Nation is attempting to fix a network of back-roads near Ball Lake Lodge, which Grassy Narrows obtained through the mercury pollution settlement in the 1980s. But, members of the First Nation say MNR enforcement officers have visited the repair site on three separate occasions, harassed the workers and warned that they may step in to halt the repair effort.
After the most recent visit, the community resolved to block MNR's access at Slant Lake, the site of the longest blockade in Canadian history, to ensure that the repairs can proceed.
"We the Anishinabek have never given up jurisdiction on our natural territories," said Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows mother, blockader, and traditional healer, in a recent press release. "We agreed to share the lands with the newcomers, but we will never give up our inherent right to use and protect the land, water and the forests."
Former Grassy Narrows Chief Steve Forbister provides some additional background:
"The federal and provincial governments offered Grassy money aside from the 8 million settlement to buy the Lodge. All Grassy had to contribute is 100,000 to make it legal. Grassy refused and Whitedog broke the deadlock by giving up their 100,000 from their 8 million settlement. One of the agreements was Ontario would assist in rebuilding the lodge after having sitting idle for almost 10 years. Ontario agreed to finalize the agreement.
"What in a sense happened was a deal was struck to get Ontario and Canada off the hook of a law suit by all camp owners in the river system. They wanted Barney Lamm, owner of Ball Lake Lodge, out of the way and this was one way of doing that, by making it look like the lodge was bought by us. Ontario never did live up to their agreement to help restoration of the ailing lodge. MNR district Manager Shawn Stevenson told the member that the building of the bridge and the hard surface road was Ontario's portion of compensation."
The last time the MNR conducted any road work was in 2002, when the logging companies were still actively raiding Grassy Narrows forests.
That same year, the First Nation erected their blockade, which brought the logging efforts to a grinding halt. And with that, the government's sense of duty vanished like so many trees.
However, the roads are in need of repair and since they are still used "by Grassy Narrows members to access hunting, trapping, wild rice picking and berry picking areas, and for access to the Ball Lake fishing lodge," explains a recent press release, the First Nation decided to do the work themselves, using the resources available to them on their territory. They just didn't ask the government's permission.
In addition to MNR's harassment , Steve Forbister says that "Treaty police have [also] been seen in the area patrolling but they too don't have any jurisdiction either." He also notes that the Ontario police (OPP) could be somehow involved.
On the brighter side of things, a Christian peacemaker team has arrived at the blockade site to monitor the situation and a call for support was sent out on Saturday, August 21, urging people to "drop by the Slant Lake Blockade site to find out more or to support" the First Nation.
The blockade itself has now stood for eight consecutive years. during that time, it has been a continual source of inspiration for the Grassy Narrows community and solidarity activists in Canada and elsewhere around the world. Even more importantly, it led the way to AbitibiBowater's decision to surrender their logging license in 2008.
But even so, the MNR is making it clear that the blockade can't come down any time soon; because of their petty antics concerning the roads and, according to Grassy Narrows, because the MNR has also threatened to resume logging on their terrotry "as early as September".
Weyerhaeuser still has more clear-cutting to do.