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The climate crisis grows more critical each year. Despite this, and despite the fact that Anishinaabek and Cree, among others, are on the frontlines of land and water preservation and revitalization, Canada (federal and provincial governments and industry) continues to break treaties and, in so doing, threaten the livelihoods of Indigenous people. . 

Grassy Narrows, or Asubpeeschoseewagong, is a small community one hour north of Kenora. It’s where I grew up understanding Indigenous sovereignty as stewardship of the land and challenging environmental racism. We are under constant pressure because Canada and Ontario want our land — land in the mineral-rich boreal forest that we rely on. However, many First Nations are part of the same colonial project that Grassy Narrows faces every day.

And so, it is critical that we continue to hold those accountable for climate change so we can set up a future for healthy land and water for our communities. 

Industry at Grassy Narrows

Grassy Narrows upholds stewardship — a natural way of land preservation — of the land through Anishinaabe governance structure, direct action, and maintaining a cultural and spiritual connection with the land. Anishinaabe governance structure is rooted in our laws surrounding traditional land use and is nourished by generations of leaders continuing to use their ancestors’ knowledge. Today, Anishinaabe governance also manifests in advocacy. As industrial logging continues to negatively affect our lands and waters, the community has had to proclaim, “We will make our own decisions and there will be no industrial logging on our Anishinaabe territory” — as Chief Rudy Turtle did in 2018. It is also manifested in community members taking direct action against logging, such as when Grassy Narrows youth held their bodies against heavy machinery to ultimately put a stop to development in the Whiskey Jack Forest. Over the last 20 years, such action has halted resource extraction. 

While the fight against logging is not over, recently, there has been greater focus on mining in our territory. With the growth of staking and exploration in Ontario, there are now more than 6,000 mining claims in Ontario’s Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS) in Grassy Narrows territory.

Some of them can be seen on Yellowhead’s Mine Sweeper Map. It has led to individual First Nations — including my own — putting bans on mining, and a group of regional First Nations have demanded a moratorium on mining until issues of consent can be addressed. 

The Dynamics of Environmental Racism

We must continue to challenge these colonial developments. Maintaining a connection to the land through culture and spirituality improves the lives of Grassy Narrows people and ensures we are safe to gather traditional medicines, build our lodges meant for ceremonies, and have those ceremonies. Organizers in Grassy often create spaces for youth who are struggling with high rates of mental health issues, and according to Dr. Mergler’s 2023 study on the impact of long-term mercury exposure, there is a higher chance that children and youth will develop anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. 

And yet, settler society continues to blame First Nations peoples for the colonialism that we face.

Because we prioritize Anishinaabe law, fighting against industry and federal and provincial governments, and working to repair the loss of cultural and spiritual knowledge of the land, we are seen as standing in the way of development or ungraciously refusing the economic development opportunities on offer. 

Environmental racism is a daily reality for people in Grassy Narrows, and we see it in the government’s refusal to engage with our laws around consent and protecting future generations. Chelsea Vowel explains that this refusal is rooted in international colonial legal frameworks like the Doctrine of Discovery, which was used for centuries to justify the seizure of Indigenous land. As it becomes more difficult to rely on explicitly racist doctrines, strategies have shifted more heavily toward divide and conquer. 

An example of this strategy can be seen in how Canada and Ontario are working with some First Nations to develop a mining framework for the massive Ring of Fire development, and shutting those who refuse out of the discussion. Only the willing are consulted on meetings about mining, even in our own territory. Even as Grassy Narrows tries to communicate with governments via press conferences at Queens Park or travelling hundreds of kilometres to Toronto – we are still being met with a cold shoulder. Environmental racism continues, despite the fact that we are trying to find solutions to ensure a healthy environment in Grassy Narrows territory for future generations. 

Stewardship is Sovereignty

Our Anishinaabe laws and governance will continue to address the ongoing issues of clean air, safe drinking water, and food security in our communities.  And so, Grassy Narrows will continue to call out problematic government policy, protect the land, and create alliances with other First Nations and allies. 

Stewardship is Indigenous sovereignty. Maintaining a connection with the land is sovereignty. Resisting non-consensual mining on stolen Indigenous land is sovereignty. The threats that mining and industrial logging present greatly outweigh the so-called benefits of any proposed road access or jobs the government promises. We deserve to have ceremonies and relationships with the land without colonial harassment. As a member of the Grassy Narrows community, I hope that future generations get to experience this wonderful land the same way that I have been able to.


Taina Da Silva

Taina Da Silva

Taina Da Silva is a 29-year-old Anishinaabekwe from Grassy Narrows First Nation. She is currently an undergrad at the University of Winnipeg for Communications. Taina has worked on short documentary-style films that reflect growing up around environmental degradation and Indigenous activism.