The Grassy Narrows First Nation opened an Amnesty International petition on 23 October asking the International Court of Justice to end the company’s activities. Almost 15,000 people have signed.
In essence, the miners want to start their operation again in January by blasting up a major part of the shore and returning the site to its previous state. They also want to reopen the berry farm where Indigenous people pick berries year-round. The harvest would be interrupted by the 500 tonnes of ash the berry farm generates annually. The mine would have to be abandoned if it causes harm to the berry farm. This is a trade-off where everyone loses, but it would be without precedent and the scale of the mine.
The third factor in considering the mining claims is the argument that an illness epidemic has broken out at Grassy Narrows, and others nearby, and that the mining operations are linked. Even the highest-ranking Ontario government official acknowledges that there is no proof of the link.
Leaders at the Nisga’a Nation in British Columbia have been working to find a path out of the Quispamsis mine that is free of environmental risk. They have repeatedly failed.
While the negative impact of mining in Grassy Narrows is well documented, the argument that economic development would address the problem of health inequity is also easy to dismiss. In reality, if the Quispamsis mine operated free of environmental impacts, the Nisga’a community would have far better health outcomes than Grassy Narrows. After all, the mine has had no negative impacts on their mine, as well. According to the latest figures available from the Canadian Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Nisga’a people had the highest poverty rate of any First Nation in Canada and have no health accord with their government.
In the case of Grassy Narrows, conditions that are comparable to those in Nisga’a are the building blocks of a human rights claim: health inequality, inadequate housing, lack of regular access to clean water and general economic insecurity. Indeed, economic development is integral to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s global report on indigenous peoples. In the 2017 Report for COP 21, for example, the IPCC found:
“Throughout [the world], we need to recognise that civil and political participation of indigenous people…influences their capacity to manage the development of their traditional territory and resources…and also contributes to environmental stewardship and resilience, under adverse environmental conditions.”
As a final point, Grassy Narrows residents have to realise that there are places where economic opportunities flourish and where mining is just not compatible. Two cases in point are Belize and Honduras.
• Ben Nalty is a lawyer with Amnesty International Canada.