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Grassy Narrows First Nation

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Title: Grassy Narrows First Nation  
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Subject: List of First Nations governments, List of Indian reserves in Canada, Treaty Three Police Service, Waawaate Fobister
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Grassy Narrows First Nation

Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (also known as Grassy Narrows First Nation or the Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg in the Anishinaabe language) is an Ojibwa First Nation located 80 km north of Kenora, Ontario. Their landbase is the 4145 ha English River 21 Indian Reserve. It has a registered population of 1,455 as of June 2012, of which the on-reserve population was 951.[1] They are a signatory to Treaty 3.


The First Nation is headed by a Chief and 4 councillors:

  • Chief Simon Fobister
  • Bill Fobister Sr.
  • Lucille Mackensie
  • Randy Fobister
  • Rudy Turtle

The First Nation is a member of the Bimose Tribal Council, a regional non-political Chief's Council, who is a member of the Grand Council of Treaty 3, a Political Organization.

The reserve is also part of the provincial riding of Kenora-Rainy River and federal riding of Kenora.


Although the Asubpeeschoseewagong people themselves say that they have always lived along the Wabigoon-English River northeast of Lake of the Woods, most historians believe that the ancestors of the Northern Ojibway were first encountered by Europeans near what is now Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and thus were given the name Saulteaux. Their territory was on the northern shore of the Great Lakes from the Michipicoten Bay of Lake Superior to the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Participation in the North American fur trade was initially through trading of furs trapped by other tribes, but soon the Saulteaux acquired trapping skills and emigrated to their present location as they sought productive trapping grounds.[2]

Treaty 3

In 1871 Grassy Narrows First Nation, together with other Ojibway tribes, made a treaty with the Canadian government, The Crown, in the person of Queen Victoria, giving up aboriginal title to a large tract of land in northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba, Treaty 3 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Saulteaux Tribe of the Ojibbeway Indians at the Northwest Angle on the Lake of the Woods with Adhesions. In exchange a spacious tract of land, as much as a square mile of land for each family, in a favorable location on the Wabigoon-English River system was reserved for the use of the tribe. Tribal members were allowed to hunt, fish, and trap on unused portions of their former domain; the government undertook to establish schools; and to give ammunition for hunting, twine to make nets, agricultural implements and supplies, and a small amount of money to the tribe. Alcoholic beverages were strictly forbidden.[3]

Old reserve

On the lands they selected under Treaty 3, the old reserve, the cycle of seasonal activities and traditional cultural practices of the Ojibway were followed. The people continued to live in their customary way, each clan living in log cabins in small clearings; often it was half a mile to the nearest neighbor. Each parcel was selected for access to fishing and hunting grounds and for suitability for gardening. The winters were spent trapping for the Hudson's Bay Company, the summer gardening and harvesting wild blueberries which together with skins were sold for supplies. Potatoes were grown on a community plot. In the Fall, wild rice was harvested from the margins of the rivers and finished for storage. Muskrat were plentiful and trapped for pelts and food. There were deer and moose on the reserve which were hunted for meat and supplemented by fish. Work was available as hunting and fishing guides and cleaning tourist lodges. Whites seldom entered the reserve except for the treaty agent who visited once a year. The only access to the reserve was by canoe or plane.[4] From 1876 to 1969 schooling was at McIntosh Indian Residential School, a residential school in McIntosh, Ontario.[5]

Economic and environmental issues

Mercury contamination

The First Nation experienced mercury poisoning from Dryden Chemical Company, a chloralkali process plant, located in Dryden, Ontario that supplied both sodium hydroxide and chlorine used in large amounts for bleaching paper during production for the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. Dryden Chemical company discharged their effluent into the Wabigoon-English River system.

The Ontario provincial government has initially told the First Nation communities to stop eating fish — their main source of protein — and closed down their commercial fishery. In 90%+ unemployment rate in 1970, closing of the commercial fishery meant economic disaster for the Indian Reserve. The closure also effected the tourism industry, where locals acted as guides for out of town fisherman. Walleye in local waterways are no longer safe to eat due to mercury contamination.

Both the paper and chemical companies ceased operations in 1976, after 24 years of operations.

Grassy Narrows First Nation received a settlement in 1985 from the Canadian government and the Reed Paper Company that bought-out the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company and its sister-company Dryden Chemical Company, but the mercury was never removed from the water and continued as of March, 2010 to affect the health of Grassy Narrows residents. The amount of mercury present in fish as of 2012 was low but a health advisory remains in effect. Consumption of fish, particularly Pickerel (Walleye), the local favorite, which is high on the food chain and concentrates mercury, remains dangerous for pregnant women and those with long term exposure.[6][7]

On September 8, 2007, Ontario announced that it had agreed to begin discussions with Grassy Narrows First Nation on forestry-related issues. The provincial government appointed former Federal Court of Canada Chief Justice Frank Iacobucci to lead these discussions. Iacobucci's discussions with Grassy Narrows will focus on, "sustainable forest management partnership models and other forestry-related matters, including harvesting methods, interim protection for traditional activities and economic development."[8]


The reserve's other environmental concern is the mass extraction of trees for paper. Abitibi Consolidated has been harvesting trees in the area. Local protestors have complained to the company and the Ministry of Natural Resources to demand a selective process. The community fears mass deforestation will lead to damage to local habitat.[9]

On August 17, 2011, First Nation supporters won a victory in court, when "Ontario's Superior Court ruled that the province cannot authorize timber and logging if the operations infringe on federal treaty promises protecting aboriginal rights to traditional hunting and trapping." [10] There were no immediate injunctions issued to stop logging activity, however.


External links


  • Rainforest Action Network
  • Open Letter to Weyerhaeuser and Abitibi, February 2006
  • "Ontario Enters into Forestry Discussions with Grassy Narrows", Government of Ontario news release, 2007-09-08


  • AANDC profile
  • Chiefs of Ontario profile
  • "Passing Ojibway Lifeways in a Contemporary Environment"
    • "Passing Ojibway Lifeways in a Contemporary Environment"
  • Amnesty International Canada: Rights ignored at Grassy Narrows
  • Photos

Further reading

Coordinates: 50°10′59″N 94°02′13″W / 50.18306°N 94.03694°W / 50.18306; -94.03694

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