Grassy Narrows Youth Promise Direct Action to Stop Logging Inside Whiskey Jack Forest, Ontario

by Alan S. Hale / Kenora Daily Miner and News

Campers at the 2013 Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering play hand drums and sing while escaping from the sweltering heat under their tarp on Aug. 20.

Campers at the 2013 Grassy Narrows Youth Gathering play hand drums and sing while escaping from the sweltering heat under their tarp on Aug. 20.

A youth group in Grassy Narrows First Nation has issued a statement saying it will oppose the Whiskey Jack Forestry Plan which is set to take effect this April. The language of the group’s statement seems to suggest the youth may be willing to disrupt any logging operations inside Grassy’s traditional territory, but is not clear on what lengths they would go to in order to do so.

“If the logging begins in our territory, I am certain there will already be planned strategies on our part to bring it to a complete halt,” reads a quote from the statement attributed to Taina Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows Youth organizer.

Some of the members of the youth group are the sons and daughters of the women who originally erected the blockade which has scuttled any notion of logging inside the community’s traditional territory since 2002. Da Silva, for instance, is the daughter of Judy Da Silva, an award-winning aboriginal rights activist, and one of the most ardent opponents of the province’s plans for forestry inside the Whiskey Jack Forest.

Edmond Jack’s mother was one of the founders of the movement which began the Grassy Narrows blockade, and has himself grown up to be an activist who places much importance in protecting his community’s ability to live a traditional existence; something he believes logging operations will put in jeopardy.

Jack said he expects the youth group will take “direct action” if logging does begin inside of their territory, but when asked if this meant the youth group was prepared to intentionally disrupt forestry operations, he was noncommittal.

Grassy Narrows youth stopping logging truck, 2002.

Grassy Narrows youth stopping logging truck, 2002.

“Grassy Narrows has a reputation because of the 10-year blockade. And I guess what we’re planning to do isn’t too much different than what they’ve been doing,” said Jack.

“Our main focus is to try to stop the logging because we’re completely against it.”

According to Jack, the goal of the youth group is not political action, but rather to get more of the Grassy Narrows’ young people out and participating in traditional ways of life such as trapping, hunting and fishing inside their territory. And they intend to continue to do those things regardless of whatever other plans the province might have for that land.

“Regardless of what the harvesting schedule is, when springtime comes we’re going to be out on the land and exercising the old ways,” he said.

Jack said he believes that a return to a more traditional way of life is the way to help get people away from the “unhealthy lifestyles” many of the people in his community are living. And to be able to engage in those cultural activities, the land needs to be protected from logging.

When asked if the employment offered to the community from logging might also help improve life in Grassy Narrows, Jack said he doesn’t expect many people in the community would take those jobs because they come at the expense of the land.

Despite the frustration over the province moving ahead with its forestry plan despite a Supreme Court challenge from Grassy Narrows, and the almost immediate rejection of a proposal which would give control of the logging industry in the Whiskey Jack to local First Nations, Jack said he is optimistic that Grassy Narrows will eventually win the issue.

“People in Grassy Narrows don’t have the same opportunities and advantages as many other people, but they do have the opportunity to live in a way where they can actually sustain themselves on the land. I think that if the government is going to come and take that away, it just shows they value money over people.”

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