ASUBPEESCHOSEEWAGONG – On Friday, April 10, the Grassy Narrows Women’s Drum Group hosted a traditional Anishinaabe Water Ceremony on the shores of Wild Lake, near the CN Mainline at Mile 106 where it crosses Highway 671 between Kenora and Grassy Narrows. The location is in an area where the rail line passes directly by several lakes and river tributaries as it runs along the southern boundary of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) Traditional Territory and multiple Anishinaabe families’ traplines.
Friday’s ceremony was held to protect the local waterways from increasing threats posed by the increased transportation of tar sands bitumen, natural gas and other explosive and toxic chemicals across and through Anishinaabe Territories.
Originally, the Water Ceremony was planned to take place right on the tracks in order to protect the local waterways from the potential of a disastrous major spill from one of the many oil and gas trains that pass through daily. However, on April 8, community members received calls from CN Rail Police and ‘Aboriginal and Tribal Relations Management’ officials promising a heavy-handed response and threatening arrests.
In response to these threats and intimidation, a Grassy Narrows Elder asked that the railway stoppage be called off. Local organizers, respecting these wishes, moved the ceremony to a location beside, not on the tracks.
At the end of the Ceremony, a Kenora Sherriff arrived and served Judy Da Silva with an injunction against impeding trains and/or trespassing on CN property, and/or ‘counselling’ others to do the same. Also named in the injunction were John and Jane Doe and Persons Unknown. The injunction will be before the court on April 16 at 10 a.m. in Kenora.
Recent train derailments near Mattagami First Nation (near Gogoma, Ontario), as well as last year’s devastating explosion in Lac Megantic have drawn attention to an increasing threat from expanding traffic of increasingly explosive and toxic oil and gas shipments. Much of that oil is tar sands bitumen.
“We know from our own experience in Grassy Narrows, that industry will not be responsible to clean after it has damaged the waters and lands through their reckless ‘development,’” said a statement released by the Grassy Narrows Women’s Drum Group on the morning of April 10. “We no longer trust these industries to come onto our land and further damage our home for economic reasons. The companies have no interest or consideration for our lives and livelihood which has provided for us for thousands of years.”
Local waters are also at threat from expanding transport of tar sands bitumen through the proposed TransCanada Energy East Pipeline project. Whether by rail or by pipeline, increased transport of tar sands bitumen represents a terrible risk to waters across Treaty # 3 Territories.
Those local waters have already been greatly impacted by industrial spilling. In the 1960’s, the waters of the English and Wabigoon River Systems were poisoned when over 9000 Kgs of mercury were dumped into the Wabigoon River by the Dryden Pulp and Paper Mill. Today, while new born children in Grassy Narrows continue to exhibit symptoms of mercury poisoning, the waters are threatened with more mercury contamination from proposed industrial logging operations in Grassy Narrows Territory as well as proposed gold mining expansion in Dryden and at Red Lake.
Grassy Narrows Band Councilor, Randy Fobister attended the Water Ceremony and addressed the nearly 50 people in attendance on April 10. This week, he said that he was “very glad to be there” and “learned a lot from the Elder who conducted the Ceremony.” He went on to say that, “these ceremonies need to happen more often – Ceremony is something that needs to happen all the time and it’s good to see it being passed from generation to generation.”
Fobister was one of the people from Grassy Narrows who spoke with OPP Liaison Officers on April 10, and was also one of the people who was approached by them the previous night when they were trying to serve DaSilva with the injunction. He says that OPP denied having a build-up of officers in the area on the 10th, and says that they already knew that the blockade had been called off the night before.
“I feel they are not honest… and I am very concerned,” said Fobister. “Is this the way they are going to treat our peaceful Ceremonies in the future? There were children and Elders there,” he said.
“One thing I learned from this is that governments and the courts and the police can’t protect the environment – they’re going to protect profits and companies,” said Fobister. “First Nations Peoples have to be the ones to protect the land and the water,” he concluded.
The date for this Ceremony was chosen in solidarity with the ‘Act on Climate’ march which saw more than 25,000 people on the streets in Quebec City the following day, marching to demand action against climate change from Canada’s Premiers.