Grassy Narrows re-lights sacred fire for 10-year blockade anniversary

Published in Windspeaker & Ontario Birchbark newspaper | December 22, 2012 | Circulation: 145,000

Bertha Keesick, mother of blockade organizers Judy da Silva and Roberta Keesick, stands on the road at Slant Lake. Photo by David P. Ball

Bertha Keesick, mother of blockade organizers Judy da Silva and Roberta Keesick, stands on the road at Slant Lake. Photo by David P. Ball

In 10 years, the small log cabin by Slant Lake–just off-reserve at Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) First Nation in northwest Ontario–has been home to hundreds, from anti-clearcutting community members to non-Native environmental allies and warriors of other Indigenous nations.

On Dec. 2, the sacred fire by the Slant Lake blockade was re-lit, the one-room cabin warmed, and stories of a decade of Canada’s longest forestry blockade told once again as community members marked the occasion.

“Many people from many different nations have basically been holding strong here,” said Judy da Silva, who organized the blockade a decade ago with her sister Roberta Keesick. “We need to form alliances with many different nations, so we can stand stronger together.

“Because if we don’t walk together on this Earth–this is all our planet–then we lose. The corporations are really powerful. They have a lot of money that we don’t (have). The thing that drives us is our heart. We’re very poor people; but it’s our hearts that make us strong, and keep us going. When we all stand together, we become really powerful.”

The blockade began on Dec. 2, 2002—after months of preparation by Keesick and da Silva’s ad hoc Grassy Narrows Environmental Group—two residents stepped onto the gravel road at Slant Lake and stood, arms raised, in front of a timber-laden logging truck.

Six years, and an international environmental campaign later, the community celebrated as paper giant AbitibiBowater corporation cancelled its logging on Grassy Narrows’ traditional territories. Likewise, the small, remote community fended off Weyerhauser, another multi-national corporation.

Another victory came when the Ontario Superior Court ruled in 2011 that the province was infringing on Aboriginal rights by allowing logging of Crown Lands where operations would harm the Anishinaabe’s traditional way of life–centred around hunting, trapping and fishing. Under the 1873 Treaty 3, that way of life was guaranteed by the Crown, the judge declared.

For blockader Crissy Swain, the blockade was about more than the clear-cut logging. It was about the community coming together for future generations.

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The logging road blockade near Grassy Narrows First Nation marked its tenth anniversary in December. Photo by David P. Ball

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