Grassy Narrows First Nation’s chief and council are calling on the Ontario government to remove a mineral deposit it wants to mine at Grassy Narrows.
The native community told Human Rights Watch in a July 20 letter that the plan threatens their treaty rights. The 38-page letter, obtained by CNN, also urges the federal government to intervene on their behalf.
The Ontario government is considering investing $2 billion to mine gold and nickel at Grassy Narrows, or water from the watershed.
The mining proposal would impact as many as 1,000 individuals and families, according to the letter.
“Grassy Narrows First Nation and Treaty 8 will be almost entirely destroyed due to the mining development,” Chief Robert Geddes wrote in the letter.
Not only could the water be poisoned, but toxins might impact 5,000 existing homes and 500 community buildings, he wrote.
“The Ontario government has a responsibility to protect the treaty rights of the Grassy Narrows First Nation,” Geddes wrote.
Failing to stop the mining would be a “complete disregard” of their treaty rights, he wrote.
Efforts are underway to protect the community
Grassy Narrows’ treaty rights were reaffirmed in the North America Treaty of 1911, and then reaffirmed in 1922.
According to the treaty’s first paragraph, the treaty states that Grassy Narrows’ people have the right to build and use its ancestral territory.
But the waters of “Grassy Narrows and the Grassy Narrows watershed are presently the subject of mining, hydroelectric, and energy exploration activities,” the letter explains.
Additionally, the letter said that neither the federal nor provincial governments have enacted any environmental-impact assessments to protect the community’s rights.
In a statement, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Doug Gibbons, said that he has recently met with the First Nation, and “local First Nations communities have a strong voice.”
“I was also pleased to attend the first meeting between Grassy Narrows First Nation representatives and elected local members of Ottawa. I agree with Chief Geddes that Grassy Narrows First Nation has the right to manage and regulate their own affairs and that the government will continue to consult with them,” Gibbons said.
In the letter, Chief Geddes outlined six recommendations for the provincial government, including an order prohibiting any further exploration and mining in the watershed.
He also encouraged the federal government to look into the destruction of Grassy Narrows’ access, housing and infrastructure.
Potential health risks
The advisory also seeks to prevent the drinking and food hazards from the mines.
“Even if the public is not aware of the potential risks to the Grassy Narrows First Nation, the public has a right to know about those potential risks,” the letter said.
Calls for reform and acknowledgement of Grassy Narrows’ rights come after one of its territories — Five Nations land — was recently recognized as one of nine federal Crown lands, according to an “online collection” of “indigenous stories, photos and artifacts” on the Rockland Summit Foundation.
The site states that “the Great Six Nations remain at odds with Ottawa” because of their Treaty 8 land claims, which have been under review by the Crown since 1947.