The Darker Side of Ontario's Boreal Forests
by streetleaf on October 7, 2016 - 11:04pm
"Ontario environment officials concerned that clear-cut logging releases mercury” as seen in the Toronto Star
Grassy Narrows is a first nation reserve on the English River (ironic) of Western Ontario which signed to treaty three in 1871. This Ojibway first nation community has an upsetting and heartbreaking history with environmental mismanagement. Over an 8 year period in the late sixties to early seventies, a local paper plant upstream polluted the river in which the Grassy Narrows community lives and depends on. Dominant among the pollutants in the river was the neurotoxin, mercury. As the smaller fish were exposed to the mercury, the larger fish bio-accumulated higher levels of mercury as they were eating many smaller fish. The residents of Grassy Narrows have always relied on fish as a primary source of protein and were then being exposed to incredibly high levels of mercury. Today in the community, many are suffering from the long term effects of mercury poisoning such as loss of muscle coordination, tunnel vision, tremors and slurred speech. These people have gone through terrible tragedy and loss, and are now being threatened with the prospect of even more.
Sections of Boreal forest upstream to the reserve are being considered for logging projects. This is incredibly controversial as research has recently found that logging can increase levels of mercury in an ecosystem. Richard Carignan, research associate at the University of Montreal, found in a 2000 study that Boreal lakes which were nearby or exposed to logging (“logged lakes”) had a significantly higher level of mercury in Northern Pikes (Garcia and Carignan, 2000). The levels of mercury found in Northern Pikes in the logged lakes were above the World Health Organization’s safe consumption limit. Does this scientific evidence backed with the tumultuous history of the Grassy Narrow’s community not give us enough reason to terminate any potential logging projects in the area? Apparently not, the ministry denied Grassy Narrows a request for an environmental impact assessment that would focus on the long term implications (10 years later) for the logging projects. To worsen the situation (if possible), emails have been released to the public in which ministry scientists have acknowledged logging to cause mercury introduction as well as the fact that no downstream implication assessment has been completed. Not only are we revoking basic human rights of living in a safe, poison free environment, we are creating a vulnerability to disability in the community and stripping the community of their previous traditional relationship with the environment.
Aboriginal knowledge is centered on the relationships and connections between the people and the environment. This is their way of life and has been for years before European Colonization. What I am most disturbed by is Canada’s awareness of the issues and the lack of action being taken. In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, stated that “…aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels” (Anaya, 2013). This official UN statement was made three years ago and we are still not seeing social justice change or government acknowledgement of aboriginal claims and issues. The Ontario Boreal Forest is more so the property of the Oijbway and other aboriginal peoples than anyone else’s and this must be nationally respected. Grassy Narrow’s community must be brought into the issue-attention cycle as I believe many Canadians are unaware of what has taken place and what is still taking place in terms of the neglect of aboriginal rights.
Anaya, J. (2014, September). The situation of indigenous peoples in Canada. UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Garcia, E., & Carignan, R. (2000). Mercury concentrations in northern pike ( Esox lucius ) from boreal lakes with logged, burned, or undisturbed catchments. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 57(S2), 129-135. doi:10.1139/f00-126
Poisson, J., & Bruser, D. (2016, September 14). Ontario environment officials concerned that clear-cut logging releases mercury. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2016/09/14/ontario-environment-o...“