I’m honored to have a platform to share this week’s story. It’s all about one of the most beautiful places in the world, the lakes, rivers and wilderness of Grassy Narrows in Ontario, Canada.
Grassy Narrows sits on the English River about 40 miles north of Kenora, the nearest town. It’s an isolated, wild, gorgeous place full of tranquil watersheds and Canadian wildlife. When I imagine the northern wilderness, I imagine the English River and it’s lakes.
My dad and I have traveled to the First Nation community (similar to a Native American Reservation) for our last few fishing trips up north and have enjoyed the peace the lake has brought us along with all the delicious Walleye.
The last night of our 2017 trip my perception of this area was thrown upside down.
Ryan Duplassie is part of the department of Native Studies for the University of Manitoba. As we came back to camp, the area we previously had to ourselves was now full of college students. Ryan was teaching a 10 day travel study course focused on the Grassy Narrows Community. Within a 20 minute conversation, two things were apparent, Ryan was an excellent, passionate teacher AND the beautiful area we had enjoyed over the last three days and the people who relied on it for livelihood had been completely DEVASTATED by deadly pollution, neglectful politics, and opportunists willing to take advantage without a second thought.
Here’s the story in a nutshell:
Ryan informed us that in the 1960s a paper mill in Dryden, Ontario disposed incredibly harmful pollution into the English River and Wabagoon River watershed. This went on for a decade before the government instated regulations causing them to stop.
This severely disabled the Grassy Narrows First Nation Community, essentially contaminating their food source (the fish that I was currently eating), taking away their livelihood, and poisoning their community (90% have mercury poisoning also referred to Ontario Minamata Disease). When we spoke at the campsite, Ryan explained that neither the paper company (technically it was legal to dump at the time) or the government was willing to pay for the cleanup (in the last month they’ve put up $85 million to begin this herculean task).
First of all I was shocked. How could this gorgeous part of the world be poisoned and f****ed over like this?? The paradigm I had in my head about where we were choosing to enjoy outside time was shattered. And, I was ashamed and embarrassed for being so completely uninformed and ignorant of what was happening in a part of the world I enjoyed.
I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. So this podcast was my small way to let Ryan’s voice be heard and hopefully inform and influence you about environmental concerns throughout the world.
Time to get preachy….hold on to your britches (pants..for us non-old timers)….
If you’re listening to this podcast, you probably LOVE the outdoors. You most likely enjoy your time exploring, pushing your limits, and appreciating the beautiful nature we are lucky enough to have in this country, throughout this continent and on this planet. Personally, I would go absolutely crazy if I wasn’t able to head out my door into the mountains, forests, plains, lakes, and so on. That’s why understanding and being informed about issues that affect these wild places (which I fully admit I previously was not about Grassy Narrows) should be important to you. Let alone the concern with how we should treat other humans (which are also addressed in this episode)!
At the end of the episode Ryan shares a very important message of hope. Start at a local level. Understand the issues that are affecting the area you live in and pursue ways to make positive changes. Start small, be consistent, and speak up when you see or hear about something you don’t think is right.
Get ’em guys! And enjoy this week’s show! Ryan was awesome, intelligent, well-informed, and ultimately optimistic about a place and a group of people he loves and admires.
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