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Grassy Narrows mercury activists stage vigil

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
Members of Grassy Narrows First Nations and supporters gathered next to the Wabigoon River, just across Hwy. 594 from the mill site for a vigil dedicated to those from their community who have suffered from mercury poisoning. Photo by Chris Marchand

By Chris Marchand

Members of Grassy Narrows First Nation and their supporters travelled to what they believe to be the source of much suffering and strife for their community, setting up a vigil next to the Wabigoon River just across from the Dryden mill site, March 22.

The vigil, in remembrance of those affected by mercury pollution in the river, coincided with World Water Day and served to remind the residents of Dryden of the lingering effects of the industrial pollution and the powerful influence it has had in shaping the First Nations community, located 93 kilometres to the northwest as the crow flies.

“Today’s World Water Day, recognized by the United Nations and we thought it would be a good reminder to Canadian society and other Indigenous people how the water has hurt our people in Grassy Narrows,” said organizer Judy Da Silva. “It came from this mill. Ten tons of mercury was dumped in there from 1962 to 1972 and we still suffer from the effects of the poison.”

Provincial investigators from the Ministry of Environment have been on the mill site over the past several months in search of sources of ongoing contamination that may still be contributing to elevated background levels of mercury in the river. The province of Ontario has also committed $85 million towards mercury remediation efforts for the Wabigoon River.

In Grassy Narrows itself, Da Silva says the federal government has granted the community a supportive care facility for community members suffering the effects of mercury poisoning. 

Da Silva says the event was to remember the people who have and are still suffering. 

“It’s to commemorate our people who have passed on from mercury poisoning and to commemorate those who are still suffering its effects,” said Da Silva.

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