Saving the Whiskey Jack Forest
The people of Grassy Narrows, an Anishinaabe community in northwestern Ontario, Canada, has repeatedly suffered the impact of government decisions taken without their consent.
The province did not carry out meaningful consultation before licensing large-scale logging activities in the Whiskey Jack forest, near to where this community lives, and it has ignored clear calls from the community to stop logging and other industrial development until consent is given. This is despite the fact that past decisions by the federal and provincial governments, such as the relocation of the reserve community and the contamination of the river system in the 1960s, have had catastrophic social and economic impacts from which the people of Grassy Narrows are still struggling to recover.
On April 6, 1970 the Government of Ontario banned fishing on the Wabigoon River due to mercury contamination from a pulp mill. Overnight unemployment in Grassy Narrows rose from 10% to 90%, a primary food staple was lost, and the devastating neurological health impact of mercury poisoning set in. Forty years later, a study on the health of Grassy Narrows residents shows that while mercury levels are going down, the health impact of mercury poisoning are substantially worse now than they were in the 70s.
In 2002, a group of women from the community began a blockade on a road near the settlement. The goal was to stop the logging in the area and vindicate their right to self-determination. The blockade, which still stands, is now the longest running logging blockade in Canadian history.
In 2008 the paper giant AbitibiBowater surrendered license to the forest. However, Weyerhaeuser, a major logging company, continues to access wood to clearcut on Grassy Narrows territory.
For now, the blockade continues to stop the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) from interfering with the road repairs that the natives are doing by themselves on their traditional territory. The roads require repairs because the MNR has not conducted maintenance on the back road network since 2002. Previously the back roads had been maintained by local contractors through provincial subsidies provided to the logging industry.