Reconciliation with First Nations requires action – by Avi Lewis (Toronto Star – June 16, 2016)

Ontario’s inability to clean up Grassy Narrows is indicative of injustices that have been playing out for decades

On the surface, it seemed like unfortunate political timing. On May 30th, Kathleen Wynne apologized for historic abuses toward indigenous peoples as part of her official response to the Truth and Reconciliation commission. “We do not approach reconciliation as something we need to get over with — we approach it as something we need to get right,” she said.

And yet, just an hour later, she was getting heat in Question Period for getting it very wrong in her response to an environmental crime-in-progress on indigenous land that has been going on for almost 60 years.

It just so happened that week was the biennial Grassy Narrows River Run, when community members from the First Nation travel 1,700 km to Toronto to press the government for action on the disaster of mercury in their lakes and rivers. Their struggle has been continuous since 1970, when the vast industrial dumping of the toxin into the English-Wabigoon river system first came to light.

This time, the folks from Grassy came armed with a game-changing scientific report — commissioned by a working group set up by Wynne herself when she was aboriginal affairs minister — that makes an irrefutable case that the mercury poisoning can and must be cleaned up.

When I was a kid, growing up in Scarborough in the early 1970s, I heard a lot about Grassy Narrows. That’s because my father Stephen Lewis, the leader of the Ontario NDP at the time, was battling the government of the day to respond to the mercury emergency.

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