New report first to show mercury impacts on Grassy Narrows kids

Grassy Narrows First Nations youth are renowned for their activism, art, and leadership in spite of mercury burden

Today Grassy Narrows released a ground-breaking new report by renowned mercury expert Dr. Donna Mergler. The authoritative report is the first study to link higher rates of health and wellbeing challenges in Grassy Narrows’ children with exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, from local fish. Grassy Narrows has long asserted that the mercury poisoning of the English and Wabigoon rivers in Northwestern Ontario continues to impact new generations of their children, and are in Ottawa to call upon Prime Minister Trudeau to take action.
The report finds that the “health and well-being of children and youth have been affected directly by prenatal exposure to mercury and indirectly by the intergenerational consequences of mercury contamination of the fish resources in their community.”
“I am calling on Trudeau to commit today to fairly compensate all our people for the ongoing mercury crisis which has impacted yet another generation of our children decades after it should have been stopped,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle.  “Support us in ensuring that our bright children can expect the same successful futures that other children in Canada take for granted by urgently implementing all of Dr. Mergler’s recommendations including programs for food security and extra resources for the school.”
Ninety four percent of Grassy Narrows people receive no compensation for the intense ongoing impacts of mercury on their bodies, their environment, economy, and rights.
The report finds that Grassy Narrows people under the age of 19 had higher rates of mercury related problems compared to other First Nations, but similar rates of other conditions. Grassy Narrows children were twice as likely not to thrive and to have emotional or behavioural problems, and three times as likely to have at least one condition that may impact school performance such as speech/language difficulties, and learning disability.
These differences were clearly linked to maternal fish consumption during pregnancy.  Children whose mothers ate fish at least once each week during pregnancy were four times as likely to have a learning disability, nervous system disorder, or at least one condition that may impact school performance, and three times as likely not to be thriving compared to those whose mothers ate fish never or hardly ever during pregnancy.
“We are proud of our kids.  They are amaze me every day with their humour, their pride, and their strength.  They should not have to overcome hunger, poverty, and poison in order to succeed.  Justin Trudeau, please find it in your heart to help our children so that their dreams can come true.”
Overcoming many challenges, the children of Grassy Narrows are active and engaged.  More than two-thirds of children (70%) participate in the community organized cultural events.  The large majority of children (88%) are engaged in physical activities including walking, swimming, running or jogging, fishing, bicycle riding/mountain biking. Fully 86% of girls and 72% of boys read for fun at least a few times a month.
In spite of higher rates of fish consumption and its impacts, when all of the other factors are taken into account, the likelihood of a child being in very good or excellent health is over two times higher if the mother lived in Grassy Narrows during her pregnancy, suggesting that the Grassy Narrows environment during pregnancy was more propitious to children’s future health.
Fifty eight percent of girls 12-17 participate in events related to the promotion of their rights, such as the convergence planned for tomorrow, December 6th, at noon at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill.
This report paints a starkly different picture than a recent internal briefing note by INAC, obtained through FOI, apparently produced following the PMO’s January 17, 2017 statement that Grassy Narrows is a priority for his government which would “deal with this issue once and for all.”
The briefing note states that in Grassy Narrows “no children were at risk” and that “[a]ccording to Health Canada, and their review of the health and mercury related data accumulated over the past 45 years, there is no data to confirm whether there is a greater rate of disability or significant health problems, in comparison to other First Nations, in… Grassy Narrows… at this time.”   The briefing goes on to state that “Health Canada is responsible for, and is actively, monitoring water quality, the safety of the food supply and health risks to the community”
However, Health Canada stopped the regular monitoring of mercury levels in Grassy Narrows people in 1999 and on April 12, 2010 Health Minister Leonna Aglucaq told parliament that Grassy Narrows mercury “is one of those projects that we had reviewed and determined was safe.”
Since the 1970s a long series of experts have noted anecdotal signs of fetal mercury impacts on children in Grassy Narrows and called for a comprehensive community wide study to look at impacts of mercury on children.  In spite of this, no sound study was ever done, until now.
“I’ve always been taught that if you do something wrong, you have to fix it. And I believe Trudeau and government have to step up and do whats right by compensating everyone on the English and Wabigoon Rivers.” Rodney Bruce Jr., 24, Grassy Narrows youth.
Grassy Narrows’ children and youth are a national inspiration as leaders in the movements for environmental justice and Indigenous sovereignty.  They have led Canada’s longest standing Indigenous logging blockade, walked thousands of kilometers for water protection, and led marches of thousands in Toronto for mercury justice.  They have also created a hit song “Home to me” with over a million views, written award winning plays, and become accomplished nurses, teachers, powwow dancers, artists and athletes.
This report documents the unique headwinds that these remarkable youth face to succeeding in a community enduring an ongoing four decade long mercury poisoning crisis.
The authors write that “[t]he legacy of mercury compounds and exacerbates the legacies of colonialism and residential schools on the health and wellbeing of the next generation.”   The report states that “[t]here is a need to act immediately to improve the conditions of this and future generations of Grassy Narrows Children… There is a responsibility on the part of governments who allowed this situation to continue for several generations to ensure that harm to present and future generations is minimized.”
The report makes key recommendations for urgent actions needed to improve the health and wellbeing of Grassy Narrows’ children and youth so that all can reach their full potential.  These recommendations include food security programs, increased support in the school and for mothers, emergency and long-term programs for children and youth.
Grassy Narrows has been asking for these measures for many years, but neither level of government has provided them.
As a community Grassy gets no extra support to help their kids reach their full potential in the context of this unique multi-generational mercury crisis.  They get only the same school and health funding that has been found to be inadequate in other First Nations who do not have the added burden of mercury.
In recent years governments have finally committed to clean up the English and Wabigoon Rivers, build a Mercury Survivors Home and Treatment Center and index existing Mercury Disability Board payments to inflation.  However, these promises do little to help the children and youth of this generation who strive to succeed while struggling to access safe food, support in school, and adequate assistance.
The report finds that among mothers of children 4-11 years old in Grassy Narrows half have incomes less than $20,000, and two thirds struggle to meet basic needs for food.
Among youth, those who eat walleye often are four times more likely to have short attention spans, and among all school children those who eat walleye more often are 3.6 times more likely to have a condition that may affect performance in school.
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