Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Randy Fobister, shown here, and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller signed an agreement Monday that ensures the community receives nearly $90 million for a care home.


Grassy Narrows First Nation hails $90M for care home as a step toward ‘full mercury justice’

Kieran Leavitt

By Kieran LeavittEdmonton BureauMon., July 26, 2021timer3 min. readupdateArticle was updated 7 hrs ago 

The Grassy Narrows First Nation took a step forward in its decades-long fight for justice Monday, as the federal government agreed to provide $90 million for a care home that will treat those poisoned by mercury.

The long-awaited deal includes $68.9 million in a trust for operational and servicing costs over 30 years, and an agreement to periodically review the funding levels. Ottawa had previously agreed to provide $19.5 million for construction costs of the facility.

Chief Randy Fobister, who inked the deal with Services Minister Marc Miller on Monday, said challenges remain for the community but in a statement he called the agreement a “milestone” and said it represented progress toward “full mercury justice.”

“I respect Minister Miller for taking this important step today toward keeping his word,” he said. “We expect Canada to continue to honour this sacred promise, and we will make sure of that.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Randy Fobister are pictured signing the long-awaited agreement in the community on Monday.

The pollution blamed for the mercury poisoning began in the 1960s, when the Dryden pulp and paper mill, operated by Reed Paper, dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River upstream of Grassy Narrows in northern Ontario.

Over the past three years, the Star and scientists have revealed that fish near Grassy Narrows remain the most contaminated in the province; that there are mercury-contaminated soil and river sediments at or near the site of the old mill; and that the provincial government knew in the 1990s that mercury was visible in soil under that site and never told anyone in Grassy Narrows or nearby Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) Independent Nations. Scientists strongly suspect that old mercury still contaminates the mill site and pollutes the river.

The effects of mercury poisoning can be lifelong. It is known to cause slurred speech, tunnel vision and tremors. Some have said there’s never been true recognition from the government of the damage caused to the community.

For years, Grassy Narrows has been pushing for money from the federal government so that it could build and operate a care home for those who have been poisoned. The community has also been demanding financial compensation for those suffering. To date, about 14 per cent of Grassy Narrows members have received compensation, according to the community.