Indigenous people of Canada ( Aboriginal ) Essay Example

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Impacts of Extraction on Grassy Narrows First Nations Canada


mpacts of extraction on Grassy Narrows First Nations Canada? This paper looks at the nature of environmental injustices meted on this community and the effect this has had on their lives as a minority group in Canada. In so doing, the issue of mercury extraction as well as logging and their effects to the community have been looked at in detail.Owing to the development of capitalist economies, there emerged new forms of industrial as well as commercial capital including corporate share capital, nuclear power stations and railways among others. Efforts towards capitalism and industrialization have systematically subordinated nature as capitalists pursue endless accumulation as well as large scale production. Such processes are unfortunately inherently anti-ecological as stated by Churchill (2014). This paper has the aim of examining how such practices have had destructive consequences on the environment and hence on the indigenous communities whose voice may not be heard and hence continue to suffer silently. The Grassy Narrows First Nations of Canada are among the various minority groups that continue to face environmental injustice from capitalists and governments world over. Grassy Narrows is found approximately 120 miles east of Winnipeg and has a population of around 1490 people according to Aboriginal affairs and Northern Development in Canada (2012). The English- Wabigoon river system runs through their traditional territory of the Whisky Jack Forest. It is from this land that the community gets its basic needs for subsistence while they also consider it essential to their identity, culture and life as a nation in accordance to Da Silva (2008). It is for this reason that the community has been resisting attempts aimed at severing their connection to this land by various corporations and even by the provincial and national governments. These attempts have however at times been successful owing to such tactics used by the capitalists including forced relocation, child apprehension, and economic deprivation as well as forced relocation. Acts of environmental injustice against Grassy Narrows include Pulp and paper mills, clear cutting and logging as well as extraction of natural resources which not only act to deprive them of their right to the land but also act to threaten their very livelihood and hence existence even by endangering their health. But what have been the i

The impacts of resource extraction from industry on First Nation reserves, Inuit and Metis has been noted by Indigenous Elders, academics and residential school survivors that this can be comparable to that of residential schools and their effects. This is not just a case of where a First Nation community will suffer from the loss of land, water and their connectedness to their lively hood as well as a disconnect from their traditional territories. This is worse than the effects of residential schools to the survivors.

This problem has been complicated by the fact that Grassy Narrows First Nation (Asubpeeschoseewagong) continues to fight for justice concerning getting the regime or relevant institutions to recognize their problems as the pulp and mill’s environmental damages to their water runs in tandem to the challenges the extraction industry has done to their land. Grassy Narrows First Nation where culturally and linguistically robed through residential school system, it is unfortunate that the problems have been escalated in a different way, not only grappling with loss of their traditional lands because of pulp and paper mill producers such as Weyerhaeuser essentially ruining their land.  The issue of extraction at Grassy Narrows is the most significant point to start, before assessing the impact of the recent ruling on the case involving Grassy Narrows First Nation and the extraction. There have been cases of greater injustice in the country than what happened to Grassy Narrows First Nation. Nigel Bankes states that there are no non-native communities who have faced greater injustices than that of the Grassy Narrows First Nation. Unfortunately, other communities have turned a blind eye to the unacceptable activities against the community and thus creating a continued cycle genocidal assault on the community comparable only to that of colonialism (Bankes, N. 2015).

Grassy Narrows First Nation have already endured significant challenges such as; malnutrition, social exclusions and challenges that were brought by residential schools. To see that Grassy Narrows First Nation struggle for clean water, rights to the land and less than access to basic justice is disgrace to the modern Canada. The destruction and degradation of the environment at Grassy Narrows First Nations runs deep and thus the community will incur years of hardship to recover.  Specifically, a deep assessment by Natalia Ilyniak into Grassy Narrows past, shows that the basis of their continued struggled has not only been with their attempt to stop logging rights out of their community but for the protection of their land, and water (Ilyniak, N. 2015).  The extraction from pulp and paper industry has been detrimental on the land and water by chemicals and mercury posing, which has been considered to be the economic turning point for smaller Northern Ontario communities at the expenses of Grassy Narrows First Nation.

While the capitalists might have considered the discovery of Mercury a blessing, this was a devastating blow to Grassy Narrows. It is worth noting that they consider fish their main source of food. However, since the discovery, Fish was found to have contained extremely high levels of Mercury owing to toxic dumping by Dryden Chemicals pulp and paper mill upstream as stated by Kraus (2013). It is to be noted that this mill had leaked approximately 9000 kilos of mercury into the English- Wabigoon river system between 1962-70. This was to force the community to stop commercial and tourist fishing in 1970 despite the fact that this is considered one of the last revenues for their traditional economic living. It is hypocritical to note that the Ontario government still held that the mercury poisoned fish was safe for them to eat despite the members of the community increasingly showing signs of mercury poisoning which threatened their very existence as claimed by Vecsey (1987).

It is to be noted that Mercury is a highly poisonous substance that has lethal implications to one’s health. The metal when released into the water reacts with various organisms to result in a lethal substance. When the fish eat the organisms, the mercury is released into human beings food chain since it can’t be broken down by digestion. Thus, such human beings start exhibiting such signs as taste, smell and taste impairment, choking. Blurry vision, tremors, loss of balance among other symptoms. It is also dangerous for pregnant women as it results in birth defects. The community thus continues to be negatively affected by Mercury poisoning. Water pollution also continue to emanate from the activities of Weyerhaeuser logging company through clear cutting as well as dumping of carcinogenic waste into the river. Recent examples of mercury poisoning include the two children born with brain cancer in 2007 while many others continue to experience seizures according to CBC (2012).

We are now seeing a situation where descendants of Grassy Narrows First Nation will be chased away from what has been their traditional land base because of industry and the destruction of their homelands.  Recent reviews on this matter indicates that impacts of extraction and water at the Grassy Narrows First Nation now stretches beyond what was anticipated some ten (10) years back (Basdeo & Bharadwaj, 2013). For instance, mercury in water means that it will be come intertwined in the land, water and the people of the community.

The government of Canada is obliged under Condition 34 to consult with and incorporate ‘native values’ with indigenous groups, including Grassy Narrows First Nation in their forest management (Adelson, N. 2005). Grassy Narrows First Nations have met repeatedly over the issue; their requests for proper management and conservation have been ignored. If any, researchers agree that that aspect of ‘native value’ has not been considered comprehensively when dealing with the issue of extraction industry in the region. The fate of the forest remains unknown especially the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The interpretation request presented by members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation took their protecting of their land rights up for review the by the Supreme Court. They argued that government of Ontario did not have jurisdiction regarding logging on their Territory because of the promise made by Canada in Treaty 3.

Ballard argues that the present harvesting level cannot be sustained for even the next 10 years. Secondly, Resolute FB Canada Inc excavating in this region makes wrong estimates and assumptions regarding available wood and other resources. Their assumptions have been based on unrealistic figures regarding what the forest can produce in a given year. Lastly, another report issued by Natalia Ilyniak indicates that levels of the harvest are too high to protect existing rivers and the wildlife habitat. These issues have again, complicated the lives for the Grassy Narrows First Nation.MyrleFirst,

  Nigel Bankes argues that he Government of Ontario proposal of clear cutting will leave erosion to cause contaminated sediment into the rivers affecting the lives of Members of Grassy Narrows First Nation. It means that this proposal for clear cutting and logging will lead to more mercury being released into rivers and the food chain thus lengthening and exacerbating what can be an avoidable tragedy. While the challenge by the Ontario government fails to recognize the struggle that also incorporates the traditional usage of land or what should constitute logging rights. (Bankes, N. 2015).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights with respects towards Grassy Narrows First Nations people. To make the matters worse, the above environmental injustices meted on the Grassy Narrows are an indication of the manipulation tactics that the capitalists and the government as well use in ensuring that their fight for environmental justice do not bear fruits. This includes the corporations and government’s tendency of employing illusionary gains in denying the community a right footing in making decisions regarding the use of their land. Some companies have for instance been accused of claiming to provide job opportunities to the members of the community through establishment of hazardous waste management plants but withholding information with regard to the health hazard and pollution that the project is exposing them to. Thus, the community continues to suffer the more. Despite suffering the brunt of such effects of industrialization, the community is never consulted neither is it granted an opportunity for participating in decision making with an equal footing with those who subject them to such injustices. The government is also guilty of consistently refusing to uphold treaty agreements thus subjecting the Grassy Narrows to active denial of access to decision making processes thus putting their lives and land to a disadvantage. acknowledgeAs seen by the members of Grassy Narrows First Nation have not only struggled against destructive colonial practices, including environmental injustices, spiritual and cultural identities being ignored by industry and government. Natalia Ilyniak suggests that the Grassy Narrows’ leadership have spoken regarding the significance of cultural healing that were caused during residential schools but this has been tainted by the continued encroachment of their land, rights and dignity. The government has certainly failed in upholding the right of members of Grassy Narrows First Nation. Logging and industrial resource extraction is already having a profound implication for the inherent rights of Members of Grassy Narrows First Nation, including rights that have been protected by national law, international human rights instruments and historic treaties. This translates to a case where there is a clear lack of respect by Canada for its treatment of Indigenous people; the Government has failed to

This paper has reviewed the impacts of extraction, specifically at the Grassy Narrows First Nations and the challenges brought to the environment damage, the people and their every day way of life. The conclusion could be said that the logging that began in the 1950s there by causing flooding and with the 1960s mercury poisoning was only the begging of what was to come for the problems that Grassy Narrows First Nation face. The community has continued to undergo different challenges and effects from the environment degradation and specifically, mercury contamination of their water, rivers and streams. Scholarly researches that have been reviewed studies clearly show that industrial clear cut logging has not only impacted the environment negatively but also destroyed the natural way of life for the Grassy Narrows First Nations. If formal changes had been implicated long ago, Grassy Narrows would be in a more healthy position of its people and community rather than another neglected First Nations community thus leading to one sided proposals by the government and the Supreme Court ruling would not have taken place in the first place. This can be coined as a modern day environmental colonialism and racism that remain alive in Ontario and within the Canadian government. Members of Grassy Narrows First Nation have continued to face problems related to environment, poverty, and poor health that should be unthinkable in a country such as Canada, considering its resources.

In line with all the above challenges faced by the community, it is unfortunate that their cries continue to fall on deaf ears. It seems that the government is not ready to listen to the community’s cries and continues to treat them as second class citizens. This has seen the community continue to have its culture, health and even survival being put at risk by the various environmental injustices described above. It is however worth noting that the Grassy Narrow community has continually been resilient and strong in their fight for environmental justice. The community has always been active in addressing the burden of environmental hazards while reclaiming traditions as well as asserting treaty promised autonomy. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure environmental justice for this marginalised community. This should ensure elimination of institutionalised denomination and oppression that has resulted in misdistribution of environmental hazards to this community. As stated by Pellow (2000), environmental justice ought to address distribution of environmental hazards and the social structures, power imbalances as well as historical imbalances determining where the hazards are to be found. In this regard, the government ought to come up with a policy that not only addresses the plight of the capitalists but also that of the minority groups such as the Grassy Narrows. It is unfortunate that this community should continue to suffer owing to logging, cross cutting and extraction of mercury while the companies responsible for this continue to rake in millions in terms of profits while there is a functioning government in Canada. These injustices ought to be swiftly addressed to enable the community be part of Canada while promoting our cultural heritage and reducing the effects of environmental mismanagement. That capitalism and industrialization being anti- ecological in nature for their demanding unending supply of natural resources to satisfy capitalism need for endless growth at the expense of the Grassy Narrows community who continue to suffer under these destructive practices is unfortunate. As such, it calls for active fight for environmental justice for such community to ensure their survival. It is rather unfortunate that their court cases in their efforts to fight for discontinuation of logging and hence environmental justice should fail. The government ought to take it upon its shoulders as the noblest duty it has to protect the right of everyone including the rights of the Grassy Narrow community not to be subjected to environmental injustices. This way, the community will be assured of their culture, food, health and hence their survival.


San Francisco, City Light Books.Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal impact of American Indian Residential Schools,Churchill, W2004,

Aboriginal affairs and Northern Development in Canada, 2012, Registered population: Grassy Narrows First Nation, Retrieved on 14th December 2015, from;


Da Silva, J2008, Defenders of the land: A network of indigenous communities and activists in land struggle across Canada, Retrieved on 14th December 2015, from;

CBC, 2012, January 30, Grassy Narrows: Still in. The CBC Digital Archives website. Archived at poisoning-of-grassy-narrows/still-ill.html

Pellow, D2000, Environmental inequality formation, Toward a theory of environmental justice, The American Behavioural Scientist, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 581-8.