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Stop clear-cutting demand youth

Article Origin


Gordon Atkinson, Birchbark Writer, Toronto







Page 1

While the blockade at the Grassy Narrows First Nation in Northern Ontario has gathered massive support from all over the world, the chainsaws are still winning the battle.

But a group of determined Native teens vows to stop the clear-cutting taking place on their reserve.

Six Ojibwa teens from Grassy Narrows were recent guests of the self-described warrior society, the Toronto Youth Movement (TYM), at a demonstration in Toronto.

The rally started at the Ministry of Natural Resources, where at least 50 people assembled at the start to show their support.

"Our people are sick because of the poisons in the water," 19-year-old Ashley Loon told a group of protesters outside the Ministry of Natural Resources office. "It has destroyed our traditional lifestyle."

As she spoke, a dozen police officers and six security guards kept an eye on the gathering throughout the chilly mid-March afternoon.

Across the street in a building that houses St. Joseph's College, some students started to mock the protesters.

"Why don't you students come down here and educate yourselves on what's going on in Grassy Narrows," a protester named Audrey Redbird said using a microphone.

Some passing motorists honked their horns as a way of showing their support to the gathering, which quickly swelled to about 75 people.

"Save our trees so we can breathe," read one of the many signs carried by the protesters.

The Grassy Narrows band is struggling to save the last few patches of old growth forest as well as trying to protect the trap line areas that are slated for clear-cutting. The remaining forest holds pieces of Native history, culture, spirituality, and medicines that can never be replaced.

"Nothing is being done, said Loon, who has been at the blockade since day one.

In December 2002, members of the Grassy Narrows band started a blockade to protest the devastation they say clear-cutting by Abitibi Consolidated Inc. has done to their land.

"We don't want negotiation or consultation," said a girl who identified herself as Chrissie. "Not one level of government has responded," she continued. "We just want them (Abitibi) off our territory."

Later the protesters marched to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT) where a video called The Story of the Grassy Narrows Blockade was shown. The one-hour video will soon be available to the public.

"The community of Grassy Narrows has lived through many traumatic events: relocation, mercury contamination of their waterways, flooding of their sacred grounds, residential schooling, and the clear-cutting that is taking place now. It has caused serious social, economic and environmental problems. These violations have had and continue to have a devastating impact on the Ojibwa culture," said a letter that was hand delivered by a member of the Grassy Narrows band to an employee of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The blockaders have five binders full of support letters from people throughout North America and the world.

But they are also being threatened by a group of non-Native thugs who call themselves the Kenora Indian Bashers.

"They go around beating up Native people," said Chrissie.

The teenagers say they'll stay at the blockade through the summer heat and the bone-chilling temperatures of winter until their pleas are taken seriously.

The blockade at Grassy Narrows is the longest one in Canadian history.