GRASSY NARROWS FIRST NATION, ON — Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has pledged support for Grassy Narrows First Nation's prohibition against all industrial logging within its traditional territory.
The ban was announced Tuesday as community leaders declared their territory to be "an Indigenous Sovereignty and Protected Area," and said they would henceforth make their own land use decisions.
In a statement, the Grassy Narrows Chief and Council expressed concern that Premier Doug Ford's government "has promised to open up the North to industry, and plans to next year begin writing a plan for another decade of industrial logging in the community's forest."
It said logging in the past resulted in mercury being released from forest soil into lakes and rivers, exacerbating the mercury contamination caused in the 1960s by effluent discharges into the Wabigoon River from the paper mill at Dryden.
In 2007, in an effort to prevent clear-cutting in the Whiskey Jack forest, Grassy Narrows announced a moratorium on all industrial activity on its traditional territory without community consent.
The following year, AbitibiBowater Inc., which held cutting rights in the forest, pulled out.
During a visit to Grassy Narrows on Tuesday, Bellegarde called for governments to honour the rights of First Nations to decide what happens in their territories.
"Grassy Narrows First Nation is pushing forward on their right to determine their own future, and forging a path towards meaningful reconciliation in the most difficult of circumstances," he said.
Ontario Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Greg Yurek issued a brief statement late Wednesday about the Grassy Narrows declaration.
"We take the concerns of Grassy Narrows First Nation very seriously. The ministry ensures the views of Grassy Narrows and other Indigenous communities are considered in all decisions regarding forestry and natural resource management. As a result of these considerations, harvesting was restricted on a large portion of the Whiskey Jack Forest for over a decade."
Yurek concluded: "Our Government will continue to engage with Grassy Narrows and ensure the health and safety of their community."