My research question began as: how might we treat the patients suffering from mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. (Ed Ou/CBC), “When the land is exploited by industrial development, they are killing our medicines. In addition, large patrilineal clans divide… blockade against logging on traditional territory. (Ed Ou/CBC), A number of supporters marched through Kenora that day calling for an inquest into Azraya's death. Japanese scientists have been studying people at Grassy Narrows and neighbouring Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nation for decades, and in 2014 urged the federal government to provide care and financial support to every resident in the Grassy Narrows is an Ojibway First Nation band government who inhabit northern. A sister that I loved and cared for,” said Azraya’s twin brother, Braeden Kokopenace, tears welling up in his eyes. But their vulnerability is equalled by their resilience. rare. Bibliography. Azraya took it the worst.”. Research and Investigation. “What is there for the people that are crippled with mercury symptoms? “People look at us as drunks and addicts and that’s not our fault, because we’ve grown up in a really bad Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) has recently completed upgrades to its water treatment system. We struggle to make those appointments. “I’ve been in really dark places,” said Kyra Sinclair, “and I don’t want our younger generations to ever feel like that.”, Grassy Narrows youth enjoying the outdoors. After one year under a boil-water advisory, Grassy Narrows declared an official state of emergency in August 2015 due to the unsafe drinking water. Despite her disability, DaSilva has helped maintain the 15-year-old But to get there, she said she needs what Azraya was seeking: a way to deal It’s the youngsters Fobister worries about the most. away into the woods. into their deaths recommended that police have better resources and training to understand the history of Grassy Narrows First Nation and deal more appropriately with community members when they find them in distress in Kenora. The improved water treatment system now provides the community with clean and safe drinking water. (Ed Ou/CBC). Darwin hopes his work on the video will not only rally support but also help him grow into a career producing music. In July, Lorenda started crowdsourcing a reward for information about the attack in the belief that police were ignoring the case. I don’t want them to turn towards the bad things, in bad places,” said Darwin, who heads the Grassy that anyone at Grassy Narrows has been poisoned — only that some people experience symptoms of Minamata disease. Ninety per cent of the population in Grassy Narrows experiences symptoms of mercury poisoning, which include neurological problems ranging from numbness in fingers and toes to seizures and cognitive delays, according to a recent study In 1983, a CBC documentary declared Grassy Narrows a community “on the verge of collapse.” It showed a picture of the Grade 8 class that year, and detailed the horrific fate of some of the students. He also has problems with memory and concentration and suffers from extreme headaches. The OPP won’t answer questions about the incident. Candles flickered in the pink evening light, perfectly reflected In the 1960s and ‘70s, industrial pollution contaminated the water in Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) with mercury, making it one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters. The fur trade economy transformed Ojibwe social organization and resource use. The federal government is taking important steps to address the First Nations drinking water crisis, but falls short of the strides needed to realize its crucial promise. “It may not bring her back, but it’s our only way to cope with everyday life.”. (Ed Ou/CBC). Two of his grandchildren, Darwin and Catherine, are “severely” affected by symptoms associated with mercury poisoning. with her grief. One of the reasons the water crisis on Indigenous reserves has not been addressed is because the government does not regulate the water quality on reserves, like the rest of Canada (Human Rights Watch, 2017). “Ever since we lost Azraya, I’ve always been thinking of making a song for her and explaining how beautiful she was and how positive she was to the people,” said Darwin Fobister. She was later declared dead in hospital. He plans to go to college and return to Grassy Narrows to help other young people express themselves in song. The man who discovered Azraya said she appeared to have died by suicide, but her family says they have not received a copy of her autopsy report. Police and hospital officials refuse to answer questions about (Ed Ou/CBC), Kyra Sinclair, left, plays with her daughter while friends and family look on. For years, Canada did not understand the harsh reality and extent of the problem. Dryden Chemical had dumped more than 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon. intoxication, but may have failed to notice she’d been injured. (Ed Ou/CBC). Azraya’s friends say it starts with winning the fight for an inquest into her death, and I just needed to let go of everything.”, Looking out over the lake in Grassy Narrows. The Problem. The pair were believed to have been high from sniffing gas. More recent actions have included a blockade against logging that began in 2002 and continues to this day. Grassy Narrows members don't have to use bottled water anymore. The community had been dealing with three boil water advisories, with some unable to use drinking water for seven years. The Journal Grassy Narrows: Community in crisis This clip from The Journal looks at the troubling violence, addiction and despair afflicting the tiny reserve town of Grassy Narrows, just north of Kenora, Ontario. Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle is the NDP candidate for Kenora.) Grassy Narrows leaders marched alongside hundreds of supporters through downtown Toronto to demand action amid the ongoing mercury poisoning crisis in the northern Ontario First Nation. This was news to Azraya’s family. the land because that’s who we are.”, Steve Fobister said he tries to impart his traditional knowledge and Anishinaabe worldview in his conversations with Darwin. A former chief, skilled hunter and devoted advocate for his community, he now has difficulty standing and swallowing. The disability board was established in 1986 as part of a court settlement with Ontario and Canada and the two paper companies involved in the contamination. when we started the blockade, but they heard the message.”. Friends and family believe it was Azraya’s quest for help in dealing with her grief that led her to Kenora. If Azraya was suicidal the Fobister receives $250 a month, the lowest amount granted through the Mercury Disability Board. Darwin has difficulty with his balance, and Police had picked her up for public what happened that night. Kenora in Ontario, Canada. night she disappeared, how did police and hospital staff miss the signs and let her walk away? I urge immediate action by the Federal government to repair, upgrade, and maintain Grassy Narrows’ drinking water system. Half a century after mercury contamination near Grassy Narrows First Nation, the poisoning continues to have deadly consequences — especially for youth, By Jody Porter Violence and a distrust of police keep spreading. said the recent focus on remediating the river does not address the lingering issue of health care. “I just want to be there for them. But health services are limited to a small nursing station, and mental health counselling on the reserve is nearly non-existent. Grassy Narrows: Community in crisis. Azraya’s friends believe her death was tied to her despair over the loss of her older brother Calvin, who died from mercury poisoning in 2014. Some of the people in There have been many battles — both public and private — during the decades of contamination at Grassy Narrows. Keewatin’s two sons, Elvis, 24, and Morris, 29, died in 1992 while trying to swim to shore after police took their boat, leaving them stranded on an island. I actually felt wanted. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, said, “The latest community health study on the Grassy Narrows First Nation is an indictment of the appalling history of government inaction and indifference. Tragedy runs deep in Azraya’s family, and police have typically had some involvement in it. She was gone two days before a First Nations search team found her. I’m kind of struggling after losing Azraya,” she said. All rights reserved. messages such as “The more youth voices, the stronger we can be / Come together in strength and unity.”. feeling.”, Steve Fobister believes the clearest path to healing is for young people to reconnect with their culture. Azraya’s parents, Christa Ackabee and Marlin Kokopenace, had arrived with a small group that marched through the streets of Kenora in the hope that the anniversary would add weight to their call for answers. We are the caretakers.”, Judy DaSilva, second from right, with youth around the sacred fire at the Slant Lake blockade site that DaSilva has helped maintain for more than a decade. (Ed Ou/CBC). Indigenous peoples have been victims of environmental racism for decades, with water quality and scarcity being one of the factors. Grassy Narrows, approximately 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, has a long history with unsafe drinking water. 1970: The government of Ontario closes the Wabigoon-English river system commercial fishery, removing one of the primary sources of income for residents of Grassy Narrows. We seem to be following the money trail Despite his physical challenges, 20-year-old Darwin Fobister has worked to organize enjoyable diversions for the kids, like going swimming or to the movies. In April, family and friends of Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace gathered in Kenora, Ont., for a vigil marking the first anniversary of her death. For almost 50 years, the people of Grassy Narrows have fought to make the government aware of their crisis. Nearly 75 per cent of the claims sent They said that he had neurological problems and he died in a very sad way,” Fobister said. So Darwin Fobister and other youngsters have become activists in seeking the truth. On April 17, 2016, Azraya was found dead in a wooded area just across the road from Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, Ont., 90 kilometres south of Grassy Narrows. I hope more of the young people would do the same.”. Led by Darwin Fobister, they hope to release a music video on social media this fall that will pressure A letter from Chief Rudy Turtle says tap water is safe to use again. In it, she is being held to the ground by the burly male officer, begging to go home. The water crisis in this Northern Ontario First Nations once again exposes the failure by the federal government to provide access to safe and clean water to First Nations. “We are not expendable and we are important to the world and our children have to feel that.” She said teenagers in Grassy Narrows today were “just babies Water crisis in Indigenous Communities Across Canada . Given these challenges, many people turned to alcohol to ease the pain of disability or idleness. of poison, and the people from Grassy Narrows, who relied on the fish as a staple in their diet, were full of it, too. She wants to go back so she can graduate and make a better life for herself and her baby daughter. that [Calvin] went through that, it makes everybody sad. Indigenous peoples have been victims of environmental racism for decades, with water quality and scarcity being one of the factors. that it could facilitate the commission of an unlawful act and that the personal information in the case was highly sensitive. It’s a depressing That, in turn, would give meaning to their own struggles. There’s nothing.”, A Grassy Narrows member undergoes a medical assessment to determine the extent of mercury poisoning in his body. “I saw one kid that died in agony not so long ago. But Steve Fobister They are frightened, but manage to be champions for kids even younger than themselves. A CBC report noted that the community’s water plant was more than 10 years old and had never functioned properly, but the First Nation could not afford to fix it since no funding was available from the federal government at the time. “My sister was too young to go at this time and I believe Azraya’s family and friends have been pushing for an inquest. Clean, drinkable water is a human right, that many Indigenous communities across Canada do not have access to: “Bills or no bills, access to water is necessary for human life and it should not be possible to simply deny it to anyone” (Vowel, 2016). Keewatin was held at the Kenora jail, where she went into medical distress. “I can’t afford anything that would It “bioaccumulates,” meaning it passes from one generation to the next, from mother to child, through the placenta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin … Reports show that water in the community is still not safe to drink, even after boiling. hidden from her family, what hope is there of healing? The federal government has not heeded that call. A young, charismatic Steve Fobister appears in the documentary. “We seem to have forgotten that. “I have so much to share. Azraya’s grandmother, Mary Eliza Keewatin, died in police custody in 1999, at the age of 57. Thousands of people in First Nations communities across Canada continue to live without access to clean drinking water. The 22-year-old was in a coma for Traditional healers were invited to the community by Judy DaSilva, a 55-year-old grandmother whose mercury-related mobility issues sometimes require her to use a wheelchair. Anishinaabe grandmothers sang a traditional mourning song, their drums echoing the rhythm of a heartbeat in the damp spring air. December 05, 2018. 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