Blog | First Nations
Watching, listening and learning: Community-based monitoring and Indigenous Knowledge in a Changing World

5 August 2020

Between 1962 and 1970, the Reed International pulp mill company dumped 10 tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River watershed at the mill site in Dryden. Downstream from Dryden, people in the community of Asubpeeschoseewagong—known to settlers as Grassy Narrows First Nation—have been living with, and dying from, the impacts of this potent neurotoxin.

In addition to mercury accumulating in the freshwater fish that are a vital part of the culture and rights of these communities, recent research shows that the residents of Asubpeeschoseewagong and the nearby Wabaseemoong Independent Nation of Whitedog— including youth — continue to have symptoms of mercury poisoning. These effects include the loss of muscle co-ordination and tunnel vision, which, among many other deleterious effects, makes it impossible for people to hunt and fish and go out on the land.

First Nations in these communities raised the alarm about contaminants in the watershed and their health for decades, but were largely ignored by Government and the industry. But what might have happened if a program was in place where the community was actively engaged in monitoring the changes to the things they cared about in their watershed? What if they were able to collaborate with scientists to document and interpret the findings together with their own knowledge of the watershed, and to use both kinds of knowledge to communicate the urgent need to address changes they were seeing and experiencing? Perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided while the community was more empowered instead of made sick, and the extent of the problem would have been difficult to ignore.

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