Monday, 10 December 2012

Longest Blockade in Canadian History - Grassy Narrows First Nation, 10 years on

The longest running blockade in Canadian history still continues today in Ontario. In December 2002 members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation blocked a logging road to impede the movement of timber industry trucks and equipment within their traditional territory. The story of the blockade is a story of convergences and relationship. There has been a growth among the people of Grassy Narrows about their own identity and that of their relationship as a community to the dominant culture and to other Indigenous Nations and peoples.

In Strong Hearts, Native Lands, Anna J. Willow demonstrates that Indigenous people’s decisions to take environmentally protective action cannot be understood apart from political or cultural concerns. By recounting how and why one Anishinaabe community was able to take a stand against the industrial logging that threatens their land-based subsistence and way of life, Willow offers a more complex “and more constructive” understanding of human-environment relationships.

Ouellette, Robert-Falcon. (Director) (2012, Dec 05). At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research. Longest Blockade in Canadian History - Grassy Narrows First Nation, 10 years on with Anna Willow. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from 
Ouellette, Robert-Falcon, dir. "Longest Blockade in Canadian History - Grassy Narrows First Nation, 10 years on with Anna Willow." At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research.. N.p., 05 2012. web. 5 Dec 2012. < ›


  1. I am familiar with a lot of the controversy which surrounded Grassy Narrows during the 1970s and 1980s, so I was interested in the recent activism of the local First Nation. During my first practicum as a student teacher, we actually discussed some of the issues affecting the Indigenous people in the area. My class of grade 10 students was studying forestry and mining and we were looking into the environmentally destructive nature of both industries. While many students had heard about the clear-cutting of forests or scarring of the landscape, they were unfamiliar with the incredibly damaging effects of industrial waste. The dangerous by-products are often stored in toxic tailing ponds near smelters or in the case of pulp and paper production close to Grassy Narrows, dumped into the river system. We watched a video outlining the symptoms of Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) which contained actual footage of people suffering from the horrible disease. We followed up with CBC archival footage explaining the high levels of mercury found in the fish, which not only destroyed a way of life for nearby inhabitants, but also created lingering health effects as many people continued to consume the fish. We closed with a clip which suggested that mercury poisoning remains a possibility, decades after pollutants stopped flowing into the water. The students in my class were surprised to hear the disturbing reports and agreed that it was shameful to treat the Grassy Narrows First Nation so poorly. Unfortunately, the idea of businesses trampling on the rights of Indigenous people remains a very unfamiliar concept to many young people. The long-running blockade of the logging road was news to me and I will likely incorporate this information into the class I teach next semester. While I found it encouraging to hear the story of a community which took a stand and grew closer in the process, I think it underscores the gravity of the situation. I would have liked to hear anthropologist Anna Willow describe the current social conditions of the community as well as any attempts to receive justice for the damages that have been done to the environment and the people.