Grassy Nar­rows First Na­tion chief not ‘a be­liever’ in Pm’s rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pledge

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NATIONAL NEWS - Kristy KirKup and Jan­ice DicK­son

OT­TaWa — an On­tario First Na­tion suf­fer­ing from gen­er­a­tions of mer­cury poi­son­ing still needs a treat­ment cen­tre and help for chil­dren harmed by the toxic metal, its chief said Wed­nes­day.

un­til Grassy Nar­rows gets aid Prime min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has promised, its chief rudy Tur­tle said, he won’t think much of Trudeau’s com­mit­ment to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

a few blocks away in a down­town Ot­tawa ho­tel, Trudeau told an as­sem­bly of First Na­tions chiefs on Tues­day that his lib­eral gov­ern­ment “will start from a place of part­ner­ship” with Indige­nous peo­ple, rec­og­niz­ing their rights with­out be­ing dragged to it by courts, and seek­ing to make that a prece­dent for all fu­ture cana­dian gov­ern­ments.

“When I hear him say that, first of all, I am not re­ally a be­liever,” Tur­tle told a news con­fer­ence on Par­lia­ment hill. “If he is se­ri­ous about hav­ing a legacy, then it is time that he meet with Grassy Nar­rows, that he meet with the chief and coun­cil, that he meet with our peo­ple, that he stand in front of our peo­ple and talk to our peo­ple.”

Tur­tle, speak­ing along­side oth­ers from his com­mu­nity near On­tario’s bor­der with man­i­toba, said Grassy Nar­rows re­ally needs its treat­ment fa­cil­ity for peo­ple with mer­cury poi­son­ing. Their lo­cal river was doused with waste mer­cury from an up­stream chem­i­cal plant for years in the 1960s and 1970s, con­tam­i­nat­ing the wa­ter, the fish that live in it, and the peo­ple who con­sumed both.

The symp­toms of mer­cury poi­son­ing in­clude im­paired pe­riph­eral vi­sion, mus­cle weak­ness, im­paired speech, hear­ing and cog­ni­tive func­tion and numb­ness or sting­ing pain in the ex­trem­i­ties and mouth. The dam­age from pro­longed ex­po­sure can be ir­re­versible.

staff from Grassy Nar­rows met Tues­day with Indige­nous ser­vices min­is­ter Jane Philpott to dis­cuss progress on the mer­cury treat­ment fa­cil­ity, Tur­tle added.

“We would like it to move faster,” he said.

Philpott said in a state­ment late Wed­nes­day the gov­ern­ment is ac­tively work­ing to sup­port the con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ity and thanked the com­mu­nity for pre­sent­ing a com­pleted fea­si­bil­ity study last week. she said the com­mu­nity and the gov­ern­ment agreed to stay in close con­tact on the project.

The chief was also joined by donna mer­gler, an euro phys­i­ol­o­gist af­fil­i­ated with the univ er site du Que­bec a mon­treal and the lead au­thor of a newly re­leased re­port doc­u­ment­ing the im­pacts of mer­cury on Grassy Nar­rows’ young peo­ple.

The re­port de­tails how mer­cury ex­po­sure, par­tic­u­larly in utero, com­pounds the phys­i­cal and men­tal health prob­lems that are con­sis­tently re­ported in First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties in canada. mer­gler rec­om­mended that Grassy Nar­rows get bet­ter food and ex­tra school re­sources to help chil­dren born with mer­cury-re­lated dis­abil­i­ties.

Judy da silva, a mother from the com­mu­nity, said on Par­lia­ment hill that she’s con­cerned about Grassy Nar­rows’ next gen­er­a­tion.

“I am a mother of five chil­dren,” she said, paus­ing to note her own de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health be­fore she sat down in a chair. “I worry about their fu­ture and for me that’s why I keep push­ing my­self ... I know it is a hard fight.”

ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Philpott spoke at length at the sec­ond day of the aFN’s meet­ing in Ot­tawa on the lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to First Na­tions, in­clud­ing its pro­posed leg­is­la­tion on Indige­nous child ser­vices. last week, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced plans to in­tro­duce leg- is­la­tion on child ser­vices co-de­vel­oped with Indige­nous groups in the new year.

Fam­i­lies should not be torn apart be­cause they are poor or be­cause par­ents have health prob­lems, she said.

“I don’t think any of us are naive,” she said.

“We don’t think a piece of leg­is­la­tion will all by it­self turn the tide on what’s go­ing on in this coun­try. but I be­lieve it can be a turn­ing point.”

ADrian WylD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Indige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jane Philpott speaks at the As­sem­bly of First Na­tions Spe­cial Chiefs meet­ing in Ot­tawa, Wed­nes­day.

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