Indigenous youths and mothers force Abitibi-Consolidated and Weyerhaeuser to stop logging Grassy Narrows territory in Ontario, 2002-2008.

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Timing
Time Period:  
3 December
2002
to
2 June
2008
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
Ontario
Location Description: 
Grassy Narrows First Nation Territory, 80 km north of Kenora
Goals: 
End clear cutting in and around Grassy Narrows traditional territories.
 

The Grassy Narrows or Asubpeeschoseewagon First Nation is an indigenous community in Canada. The reservation was established by treaty with the Canadian government and British Crown in 1871 and is located 80 kilometers north of Kenora in northern Ontario.

The traditional territory of the Asubpeeschoseewagon people includes the land, waters, and natural resources used, occupied, and owned by the First Nation. Corporate development has long compromised the health and sovereignty of the people.

In the early 2000s, Abitibi-Consolidated, Inc. and Weyerhaeuser started to clear cut portions of the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional territory. Clear cutting is a practice of logging an area that involves cutting all trees and vegetation in an area rather than selectively cutting trees that are of a particular maturity or species. Clear cutting threatens game habitat, degrades topsoil, and reduces water quality.

On 3 December 2002, people from the Grassy Narrows First Nation formed a blockade of a logging truck hauling timber out of forests in the traditional territories, stopping the truck. It was mostly women and children from the Grassy Narrows community who maintained a constant blockade through the winter, when the blockade grew to a group of 40 First Nations residents.

Shoon Keewatin, another community leader, assembled youth to build a permanent log roundhouse at the blockade site. Teachers and community members started to hold classes for children at the blockade and near the clear cutting site.

When they discovered that logging trucks were getting into clear cutting areas by means of other roads, the Grassy Narrows community started “roving blockades,” setting them up at various locations as they discovered where trucks were coming in.

The following winter, 2003, community leader Joe B. Fobister started a hunger strike, demanding that the government promise never to allow logging in the Grassy Narrows territory.

According to Canadian law, First Nations can hold hunts on their lands for a few days at a time, meaning that all outsiders must stay out of their territory in that period. Activists held hunts to prevent loggers from entering and posted signs around the perimeter of their traditional territory indicating that loggers should stay out of the area for their own safety.

In early February 2003, The Minister of Natural Resources said that he would meet with the chief and council members, excluding the blockaders.

The community did not agree to this meeting, and on 18 February 2003, schoolchildren and teachers went to the Abitibi-Consolidated paper mill in Kenora, Ontario to picket. The activists then marched through Kenora to government offices and tried to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs, Bob Nault, because they considered clear-cutting without their consent a violation of their treaty rights.

Instead of meeting with the activists, Nault said that the issue was not under his jurisdiction.

The activists continued to appeal to government officials for meetings. On 17 March 2003, a delegation from the blockade traveled to Toronto to try to meet with representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The Minister refused to meet with the activists so they held a rally outside the offices.

The community continued the blockade through the summer of 2003, when the blockade became the longest continuous blockade in Canadian history. The Grassy Narrows people held gatherings at the blockades and constructed more buildings. Allies came to support the blockade from as far away as Arizona and Japan and there was a youth gathering at the blockade in June.

In November 2003, Abitibi-Consolidated’s, general manager Don Hopkins and other company officials came to meet Grassy Narrows people for the first time. The officials offered to stop logging within 10 kilometers of the community, and to avoid clear-cutting within 20 kilometers of the territory. The company additionally promised funding for youth education and job creation programs.

The Grassy Narrows activists refused this offer, because they were seeking to have absolutely no logging on their lands by any company. Also, they believed that the company was negotiating in bad faith because the company’s negotiators broke another of Grassy Narrows’ trap lines during the negotiation.

RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK (RAN) BEGINS A SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN IN SUPPORT

The RAN campaign addressed the demand for lumber being produced from the traditional territories, by targeting in 2003 the companies who purchased timber products such as Boise Cascade, a lumber company based in Idaho.

Grassy Narrows activists continued their blockade into 2005 and in April of that year, RAN and First Nations community members interrupted a shareholders’ meeting of Weyerhaeuser, a company that bought lumber products from Abitibi-Consolidated.

The Weyerhaeuser CEO cut the annual shareholders’ meeting short after activists interrupted the question and answer period. In December 2005, Grassy Narrows Clan Mothers sent letters to Weyerhaeuser and Abitibi warning them that if they did not stop logging on their lands, the mothers would work internationally to gain support for their resistance.

In July 2006, at least 100 protesters erected a blockade on the Trans-Canada Highway to stop logging vehicles from accessing forests on their traditional territory. Activists from RAN erected a 30-foot metal tripod suspending an activist in the middle of the road. Police removed the tripod and the suspended activist that night.

On 25 July 2006, a group of 25 Grassy Narrows activists blockaded a bridge north of Kenora, allowing local vehicles to pass but stopping logging vehicles.

Police arrested nine of the blockading protesters. This marked the first time police arrested a First Nation community member for defending their traditional territory from logging.

On 17 January 2007, Grassy Narrows publically called for a moratorium on logging in their lands. Amnesty International wrote a letter to logging companies describing the struggles of the people in the Grassy Narrows First Nation and presenting the logging as a violation of human rights.

As First Nations activists continued the blockade, RAN continued to pressure companies to stop using lumber products harvested on Grassy Narrows lands, for example Quadrant Homes. On 15 March 2007, police arrested two RAN activists for dropping a banner at a Quadrant Homes model home. Again on 18 April 2007, police arrested four RAN members in Bellevue, WA for climbing on top of the Quadrant Homes offices and unfurling a banner protesting the Canadian logging operations.

During meetings of the Ontario legislature, on 25 June 2007, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, Grassy Narrows First Nation, and Rainforest Action Network constructed a large teepee on the Ontario legislature’s front lawn. A RAN activist suspended herself from the teepee.

In September 2007, environmental and indigenous groups unfurled a 75-meter long arrow-shaped banner demanding “Native Land Rights Now” on the lawn of the Ontario legislature in an action organized by RAN and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Ontario’s Natural Resources Minister Davis Ramsay responded on 8 September 2007, agreeing to discussions with the Grassy Narrows First Nation about the logging. The Minister and Grassy Narrows community members met.

On 28 February 2008, Boise Cascade announced that it would no longer buy wood products from the northwestern Ontario forest of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

On 17 April 2008, RAN activists chained themselves together to flower pots and across the entrance to the shareholders’ meeting of Weyerhaeuser at the company’s headquarters in Seattle.

Without public announcement, Weyerhaeuser stopped logging in the Grassy Narrows territory. Then on 2 June 2008, AbitibiBowater, previously Abitibi-Consolidated, Inc. announced the company would stop logging the area.

VICTORY MAY BE TEMPORARY

In 2011, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the Ontario government cannot allow logging that violates indigenous treaty rights. The Ontario government appealed this ruling and the Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on 15 May 2014.

In the meantime -- in December 2013 -- Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources approved a ten-year Forest Management Plan that allows for clear-cutting in the Grassy Narrows Territory. Logging trucks are predicted to return to the territory in April, 2014 (ahead of the Supreme Court’s hearing of the case).

In the winter of 2013-14 the people of Grassy Narrows said they are prepared to reassemble their blockade if logging trucks arrive in the spring.

Research Notes
Influences: 

(1) Grassy Narrows activists could have been influenced by the Kanehsatake blockade in Quebec in 1990.

(2) Their commitment was likely looked to by Idle No More activists in 2012.

Sources: 
“4 protesters arrested in front of Weyerhaeuser headquarters.” Associated Press 17 April 2008.

“AbitibiBowater Disappointed by End of Greenpeace Talks.” Canada Newswire 4 September 2008.

“Breaking News: More than 100 supporters blockade TransCanada Highway in support of Grassy Narrows.” Canada Newswire 13 July 2006.

Free Grassy Narrows. Web. Accessed 12 February 2014. http://freegrassy.net

“Greenpeace report reveals high profile companies buying Boreal Forest destruction: International companies, consumer urged to take action to save forest.” Canada Newswire 20 August 2007.

“Ontario enters into forestry discussions with Grassy Narrows.” Canada Newswire 8 September 2007.

Ball, David P. “Grassy Narrows Anti-Logging Blockade Marks Ten-Year Anniversary.” Indian Country Today Media Network. Web. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/12/04/grassy-narrows-anti-logging-blockade-marks-ten-year-anniversary-146074

Canadian Press, The. “Wood Fibre from Ontario forest rejected.” The Record 29 February 2008.

Canadian Press, The. “9 Charged in logging blockade.” The Record 28 July 2006.

Clement, Dave. As Long As The Rivers Flow: Story of the Grassy Narrows Blockade. Produced 2003. Six sections. Accessed 12 February 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhmaEgBmNXQ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaR4gFuPSM8; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0YHhKYj72M; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0aRIKGJV1Y; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qltFkh7qjhA; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kLYg46gnyc

Edwards, Marcelene. “Sustainable Timber Challenged: As another contentious annual meeting nears, Weyerhaeuser says it stands by its products and environmental practices.” The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) 19 April 2006.

Ferguson, Rob. “Native Protest Tests New Ministry-Teepee at Legislature puts focus on logging, mineral exploration.” The Toronto Star 26 June 2007.

Harries, Kate. “Grassy Narrows Still Fighting.” Toronto Star 30 November 2003.

Johal, Am. “Native Groups in Ontario Protest the Mining of their Lands.” Inter Press Service 9 October 2007.

Porter, Jody. “’Longest running’ First Nations blockade continues.” CBC News. 3 December 2012. Web. Accessed 12 February 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/longest-running-first-nations-blockade-continues-1.1161095

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau. “Around the Eastside.” The Seattle Times. 19 April 2007.

Virgin, Bill. “Timber Firm Sizes up the Market-Weyerhaeuser eyes growth sectors.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer 20 April 2007.

Toensing, Gale Courey. "Grassy Narrows Blockade to Resume if Logging Operation Starts." Indian Country. 13 Jan 2014. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/13/grassy-narrows-blockade-resume-if-logging-operation-starts-153101

Greene, Crystal. "Grassy Narrows First Nation on alert for logging." CBC News. 3 Feb 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/grassy-narrows-first-nation-on-alert-for-logging-1.2520581

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ryan Leitner 20/02/2014