Wynne government is failing First Nations struggling with mercury poising

QUEEN’S PARK—NDP Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation critic Michael Mantha said that the Wynne Liberals continues to fail the people of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations, who are now fighting to get access to their own hair and blood samples to demonstrate the extent of mercury contamination in the nearby Wabigoon River.

“Four years ago, the former chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation, Elder Steve Fobister, took the extreme and desperate step of going on a hunger strike to draw attention to the historic and ongoing poisoning from mercury of his community in nearby Wabaseemoong First Nation,” said Mantha, the MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin.

“At that time the Minister of Indigenous Relations committed to former Chief Fobister that action to change the badly broken system of compensation for the victims of mercury would follow. The federal government took thousands of samples of hair and blood from hundreds of members of these communities between 1970 and 2000, and only now, after a fight, are these community members gaining access to their own samples.”

Mercury sampling of First Nations children and adults living along the English-Wabigoon River began decades ago, after a Dryden paper mill dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River, but families were not given access to their own results. A Mercury Disabilities Board set up in the 1980s has turned down nearly 70 per cent of applicants asking for compensation.

In question period on Thursday, Mantha said that the Wynne Liberals continue to force First Nations communities to fight just to get the compensation that they deserve.

“The community has had to fight. The community has had to scrap and even have their youth thrown out of this very building, threatened to starve themselves to get recognition, and are still waiting for action from this Liberal government,” said Mantha.

“What has the minister done to honour his commitment to Chief Fobister to fix the broken compensation system and create a mercury-treatment home? What will your government do to ensure that every member of these communities receives compensation for the intergenerational harm done to their health and livelihood from the exposure to mercury?” asked Mantha.