The fur trade economy transformed Ojibwe social organization and resource use. no inquest. He leans heavily Azraya’s friends say it starts with winning the fight for an inquest into her death, They’ve never lived in a community where jobs are plentiful and disabilities In July, the provincial coroner’s office told CBC News that its investigation was complete but that its reports would not be made public and that there would be It often requires him to hold his lower jaw with his thumb to reduce the shaking long enough to form words. The man who discovered Azraya said she appeared to have died by suicide, but her family says they have not received a copy of her autopsy report. “I can’t afford anything that would the land because that’s who we are.”, Steve Fobister said he tries to impart his traditional knowledge and Anishinaabe worldview in his conversations with Darwin. I want them to see there’s a future coming towards them.”. “What is there for the people that are crippled with mercury symptoms? “I just want to be there for them. Her death has become an emblem of the social devastation that followed the environmental destruction at Grassy Narrows, leaving many to wonder: If a child’s plea for help can go unanswered and the details of her death can remain That’s all anyone knows for sure. The youngest generation at Grassy Narrows has never known a time before the poisoning. The Problem. An inquest We probably are, already, and we don’t know what’s going to happen because nobody is helping,” said Chayna Loon, one of Azraya’s cousins. feeling.”, Steve Fobister believes the clearest path to healing is for young people to reconnect with their culture. During the 1960s and early ‘70s, the chemical plant at the Reed Paper mill in Dryden, Ont., which is upstream of Grassy Narrows, dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River. It’s a depressing with her grief. The girl with the bright smile had just turned 14 when she left her family in Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario last spring in search of someone — or something — to ease her overwhelming grief. The federal government has not heeded that call. The disability board was established in 1986 as part of a court settlement with Ontario and Canada and the two paper companies involved in the contamination. Narrows Youth Organization. But before that, she wants to get treatment for her alcohol dependency. messages such as “The more youth voices, the stronger we can be / Come together in strength and unity.”. First, there “These past few generations, it has been getting worse for us,” said 17-year-old Chayna Loon. I urge immediate action by the Federal government to repair, upgrade, and maintain Grassy Narrows’ drinking water system. “He might just end up being like me, not being able to walk and not being able to provide for myself the daily routine it requires to be normal. Part of their challenge is understanding the role police played in Azraya’s final days. When Azraya was struggling with her brother Calvin’s death, she asked her parents to put her in the care of a child welfare agency in Kenora so she could receive counselling. She died nearby. Azraya Ackabee-Kokopenace wanted help. We seem to be following the money trail CBC News filed a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to get more details about Azraya’s case. Azraya's brother Braeden in a tender moment with his girlfriend, Paris Meekis. Jianne Turtle, 13, daughter of Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “should keep his promise” to address the mercury crisis. She was gone two days before a First Nations search team found her. “I saw one kid that died in agony not so long ago. If Azraya was suicidal the After government scientists first confirmed the contamination in the 1970s, Ontario closed the commercial fishery in the English-Wabigoon River system. There’s nothing.”, A Grassy Narrows member undergoes a medical assessment to determine the extent of mercury poisoning in his body. (Ed Ou/CBC), Gazing at the northern lights. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, said, “The latest community health study on the Grassy Narrows First Nation is an indictment of the appalling history of government inaction and indifference. Anishinaabe grandmothers sang a traditional mourning song, their drums echoing the rhythm of a heartbeat in the damp spring air. “This really is a litmus test around government's commitment to addressing the water crisis in Indigenous communities,” said Moola. It's a critical point, because any death in custody in Ontario results in a mandatory inquest. “I’m losing myself, I can feel it. This was news to Azraya’s family. In the 1960s and ‘70s, industrial pollution contaminated the water in Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong) with mercury, making it one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters. The federal government’s response underscores the severity of the water crisis, which extends far beyond Grassy Narrows. A sister that I loved and cared for,” said Azraya’s twin brother, Braeden Kokopenace, tears welling up in his eyes. (Ed Ou/CBC). Grassy Narrows is an Ojibway First Nation band government who inhabit northern. All rights reserved. “We seem to have forgotten that. The pair were believed to have been high from sniffing gas. Traditional healers were invited to the community by Judy DaSilva, a 55-year-old grandmother whose mercury-related mobility issues sometimes require her to use a wheelchair. Kenora in Ontario, Canada. Keewatin was held at the Kenora jail, where she went into medical distress. Chayna Loon said she found a deeper connection to her heritage in April when she took part in traditional Anishinaabe healing ceremonies on the same weekend as the anniversary of Azraya’s death. and I just needed to let go of everything.”, Looking out over the lake in Grassy Narrows. “It may not bring her back, but it’s our only way to cope with everyday life.”. Led by Darwin Fobister, they hope to release a music video on social media this fall that will pressure path.”, Girls in traditional Anishinaabe ribbon skirts head to a traditional ceremony. which would prove the life of a teenager from Grassy Narrows has value. After decades of delay and mounting pressure from First Nations and environmental groups, the Ontario government announced in June that it would spend $85 million to clean up the mercury in the English-Wabigoon River. The people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) have already paid too-high a price for the contamination of their waters. As of January 2016, drinking water advisories were in effect in 85 First Nations communities across Canada, with the majority in Ontario. He is healthy, handsome and energetic, as yet unmarred by the mercury — but making the same demands for compensation he does today. It’s a dream his grandfather supports, even as he contemplates the fact that his grandson’s future will be tainted by mercury. blockade against logging on traditional territory. Cramped homes became scarred by violence, with teens regularly the victims. “I felt like I was needed there. To this date, there is still no safe tap water from the facility. I felt happy being there but at the same time I was crying so bad because I just felt so overwhelmed of the contamination. Despite her disability, DaSilva has helped maintain the 15-year-old Taking Action. services only cover a fraction of the travel.”. Due to the high number of reserves experiencing 1 or more of these advisories, people have spent their whole lives without clean water, therefore having to drink from water bottles shipped from the government (Human Rights Watch, 2017). “We deserve to know the truth,” said Azraya’s friend Kyra Sinclair, who is 15. reserve. Research and Investigation. In 1983, a CBC documentary declared Grassy Narrows a community “on the verge of collapse.” It showed a picture of the Grade 8 class that year, and detailed the horrific fate of some of the students. Medical The paper mill in Dryden, Ont., is located upstream from Grassy Narrows. the environment, we are the environment. when we started the blockade, but they heard the message.”. that [Calvin] went through that, it makes everybody sad. The payment “doesn’t even meet my nutritional needs,” said Fobister. “I’ve been in really dark places,” said Kyra Sinclair, “and I don’t want our younger generations to ever feel like that.”, Grassy Narrows youth enjoying the outdoors. They said that he had neurological problems and he died in a very sad way,” Fobister said. Reports show that water in the community is still not safe to drink, even after boiling. In addition to protesting their government, the community turned to more traditional means as well. The social crisis there intensified despite — some say because of — the good intentions of governments and "do-gooders," as described by reporter Keith Morrison. Neither the companies, the governments nor the disability board has ever admitted “Knowing how Calvin died, we could all be dying. Japanese scientists have been studying people at Grassy Narrows and neighbouring Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nation for decades, and in 2014 urged the federal government to provide care and financial support to every resident in the This has eliminated all long-term drinking water advisories affecting the community. The OPP won’t answer questions about the incident. She wants to go back so she can graduate and make a better life for herself and her baby daughter. Darwin has difficulty with his balance, and These advisories vary in terms of how restricting the rules are regarding drinking the water on reserves. Azraya’s death marked a new chapter in this decades-old tragedy. Grassy Narrows, approximately 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, has a long history with unsafe drinking water. Azraya took it the worst.”. They are frightened, but manage to be champions for kids even younger than themselves. shot to death by her boyfriend; a 16-year-old classmate was charged with stabbing her boyfriend to death in self-defence; another 15-year-old had frozen to death walking home from a party. of the poisoning, resulting in mass unemployment. In Canada, there are 3 types of water advisories: Boil Water Advisories/Orders, Do Not Consume Advisories/Orders, and Do Not Use Advisories/Orders. “He’ll never be normal,” said Steve Fobister. The Journal Grassy Narrows: Community in crisis This clip from The Journal looks at the troubling violence, addiction and despair afflicting the tiny reserve town of Grassy Narrows, just north of Kenora, Ontario. what happened that night. “We’re trying to fight and we’re trying to save In addition, large patrilineal clans divide… to the board are denied, according to a 2014 report from the board’s chair. Ninety per cent of the population in Grassy Narrows experiences symptoms of mercury poisoning, which include neurological problems ranging from numbness in fingers and toes to seizures and cognitive delays, according to a recent study When you talk to young people at Grassy Narrows, they tilt between despair and defiance. “We know the police don’t care about us,” she said. The community had been dealing with three boil water advisories, with some unable to use drinking water for seven years. I want to get the help I think I might need. A former owner of the mill operated a chemical plant on the site that dumped 9,000 kg of mercury into the water in the 1960s and '70s. “We are not expendable and we are important to the world and our children have to feel that.” She said teenagers in Grassy Narrows today were “just babies Grassy Narrows members are welcoming safe drinking water in their community. December 05, 2018. Jul. Grassy Narrows. It’s the youngsters Fobister worries about the most. Our forthcoming print edition will further investigate the remediation plans of Dr. Rudd and his team. On April 17, 2016, Azraya was found dead in a wooded area just across the road from Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, Ont., 90 kilometres south of Grassy Narrows. We just want something done and to move forward.”, Chayna Loon in the make-shift recording studio set up in the Trapper's Lodge in Grassy Narrows. Grassy Narrows’ fight for clean water is a struggle for environmental justice ... Mercury contamination has triggered an ecological crisis that has devastated the local environment and community members’ health to this day. 10, 2020 Star Exclusive The government shipping bottles water to reserves is a short-term solution, so money, time, and effort need to be put towards long term solutions, such as cleaning the waterways to get rid of contaminants such as e-coli. Dryden Chemical had dumped more than 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon. (Ed Ou/CBC). give me some level of comfort. The 22-year-old was in a coma for the group carried homemade signs saying “Justice for Azraya.” They slowed traffic, demanding a coroner’s inquest. rare. On the anniversary of Azraya’s death, the Lake of the Woods District Hospital issued a statement expressing condolences, but like police, officials there refused to answer any questions about what happened the night she walked away Water Canada has provided ongoing coverage of Grassy Narrows’ struggle to remediate their watershed and gain recognition and support from government and public institutions with respect to their crisis. Darwin hopes his work on the video will not only rally support but also help him grow into a career producing music. But health services are limited to a small nursing station, and mental health counselling on the reserve is nearly non-existent. Frustrated by the silence, the young people at Grassy Narrows are turning to music to raise awareness about Azraya’s death. (Ed Ou/CBC). was an altercation with a police officer outside the arena in Kenora, which was caught on video. I hope more of the young people would do the same.”. The improved water treatment system now provides the community with clean and safe drinking water. We are the caretakers.”, Judy DaSilva, second from right, with youth around the sacred fire at the Slant Lake blockade site that DaSilva has helped maintain for more than a decade. hidden from her family, what hope is there of healing? Home. Once ingested, mercury never goes away. “She meant so much to this whole (Ed Ou/CBC), People came from neighbouring First Nations to take part in the ceremonies. (Ed Ou/CBC), Kyra Sinclair, left, plays with her daughter while friends and family look on. now.”, Darwin Fobister, Steve's grandson, has difficulty with his balance, problems with memory and concentration and suffers from extreme headaches. Azraya’s parents, Christa Ackabee and Marlin Kokopenace, had arrived with a small group that marched through the streets of Kenora in the hope that the anniversary would add weight to their call for answers. 1,000 residents has affected three generations. Police and hospital officials refuse to answer questions about IPSM started out as the Friends of Grassy Narrows in 2003 and since branched into a broadly-focused solidarity group that also looks at other communities’ issues such as fracking, the Tar sands (Caine 2012), the Keystone Pipeline, oil spills, Sun Peaks’ development in British Columbia, and water contamination. Chief Rudy Turtle says they got $5.2 million from Indigenous Services Canada and $1 million dollars from the province, so they could lift boil water advisories that had been in place for seven years since 2013, as well as extend service to new parts of the community. Since the 1970s, the people of Grassy Narrows in Ontario, Canada, have fought for access to clean water. But advocates say clear-cutting will mean more mercury in the water system — which has already poisoned 90 per cent of Grassy Narrows residents. Bibliography. One 15-year-old had been (Ed Ou/CBC). “I kind of resent the fact they’re going to spend money to do a cleanup. Clean, drinkable water is a human right, that many Indigenous communities across Canada do not have access to: “Bills or no bills, access to water is necessary for human life and it should not be possible to simply deny it to anyone” (Vowel, 2016). Some of the people in Grassy Narrows members don't have to use bottled water anymore. Violence and a distrust of police keep spreading. intoxication, but may have failed to notice she’d been injured. “I feel like we have not been able to accommodate the people that are sick,” said Fobister. For years, Canada did not understand the harsh reality and extent of the problem. Young women sing an ethereal chorus over an electronic beat while Darwin and other young men rap verses with uplifting One of the reasons the water crisis on Indigenous reserves has not been addressed is because the government does not regulate the water quality on reserves, like the rest of Canada (Human Rights Watch, 2017). More than a year later, no one seems to know how she got there. It “bioaccumulates,” meaning it passes from one generation to the next, from mother to child, through the placenta. They migrated northward and westward during the late 17th and early 18th centuries in search of animals to supply the fur trade. I’m kind of struggling after losing Azraya,” she said. 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