As the site of the longest-running blockade to stop clearcut logging, Asubpeeschoseewagong. or Grassy Narrows, located eighty + kilometers, northeast of Kenora off the Trans-Canada Highway, has seen more than its share of struggles throughout its ancestral traditional territory. The Anishnabek of Asubpeeschoseewagong were relocated by a government decision in 1963 to the present location “to allow better access to the nearest town and to benefit from what it has to offer.”
This entry looks at the First Peoples of Asubpeeschoseewagong, (Grassy Narrows) who have been displaced; their graveyard and sacred sites flooded, and their water and food supply contaminated by large-scale developments. Asubpeeschoseewagong, located in Treaty # 3, near the town of Kenora is road-accessible via highway 671, a short drive northeast on a former logging road which has only been paved since 2002. With a population of approximately 1000 and a 14 square mile reserve, the members of Asubpeeschoseewagong consider the surrounding 2,500 square miles as their traditional territory.
In 2007, Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister, and community leaders declared a moratorium on all industrial activity within their traditional territory without community consent, citing, “We’ve been seeking for many years a constructive solution to this untenable situation, but the response has been to talk and log. We cannot sit back and watch the demise of our way of life which disappears every time more cutting areas are extended.”
“The clear-cutting of the land, and the destruction of the forest is an attack on our people,” says Roberta Keesic, a grandmother and trapper. “The land is the basis of who we are. Our culture is a land-based culture and the destruction of the land is the destruction of our culture.”
In the mid-70’s, the way of life of Asubpeeshoseewagong was heavily impacted by mercury being released into the English-Wabigoon river system by a pulp and paper mill in Dryden from 1960- 1979. As a result, the Ontario government told the community to “stop eating fish,” – and closed down their commercial fishery. The release of mercury, upstream from Grassy Narrows resulted in the loss of the main source of food and employment for the community and greatly impacted their health and way of life and still continues to this day.
Living close to all the development and being close to an urban center has not brought all the benefits that one might expect.
A trapper reported that his trapping cabin had burned down. The logs that he had cut down for the replacement of the cabin which he hauled to the main road were cut up for firewood by a person or persons unknown. In March 2007, Roberta Keesic was charged with building 2 cabins for shelter in her traditional territory without a permit , and refusing a stop-work order. Her case comes up on October 20, 2009.
Recently, youth leader Chrissy Swain and community organizer Judy Dasilva visited the former site of the Macintosh Residential School near Kenora and found several large hydro towers at the grave site of the children who died at the school, disrespecting their memory. Ms. Swain, who has started walking with other youth from Grassy Narrows to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, had this to say:
“We need Canada to recognize the damage those schools have done to our communities and cultures, and we need an end to the destruction of our lands, and an end to native people being criminalized when they stand up for their rights to protect their lands, their cultures, and their communities.”
Judy Dasilva pointed out that there are now mining claims that run into a spring-fed lake, a few kilometers from the community that will potentially impact their water and food supply…..once again.
Their voices continue to echo through Noopemig…..