Another update from our friends up in Grassy Narrows. Alex wrote this on Canada Day this past week.
Cathy has gotten better, and no one else has gotten sick. We do spend in excess of three hours a day boiling water, an extra hour of wood gathering and chopping the wood for the fire to boil that water with, and the water tastes pretty foul. However, we only have to deal with this for another month, whereas the people of Grassy Narrows must deal indefinitely. Some First Nations communities have been doing this for years. And many people in those communities are boiling water for their entire families on wood burning stoves, so they must endure the same routine we are, and do so for their children and elders as well.
I and others in our group have spoken to many people in Grassy Narrows about the current ‘boil water advisory’ situation. Some people have played it down, talking about E-Coli bacteria in the water as a very rare occurrence that is both occasionally inevitable, and not necessarily emblematic of broader systemic infrastructural oppression. On the other side of the coin, is a version of the story that talks about systematic neglect, and in its telling usually leads to broader discussions resource mismanagement, cultural and socio-economic oppression, the Canadian governments new role as the world leaders in the fight for water privatization, and even some darker and sketchier conspiracy theory type musings.
All this being said, what I find most poignant is the following, and it is an impression pieced together from discussions with many people, and does not necessarily reflect any one persons telling of the ‘boil water story.’ I have heard that people have been getting sick, most likely from the water, for some time now; boils, diarrhea, persistent headaches, skin rashes, etc. And while there is allegedly someone who is supposed to be testing the water regularly, it is starting to seem to me like that must somehow be a neglected duty, whomever that responsibility might be supposed to fall on. And that it was not until members of the community brought pattern illnesses to the attention of doctors at the clinic, and that those doctors’ reports made their way to Health Canada, that the ‘boil water’ advisory was issued. So, to recap, despite alleged testing of the water, people have been sick for months, and it wasn’t until the community members themselves figured out what the problem was that the government responded in any way, and still it took them nearly a month to respond. Now the water is going to be (eventually flooded with chlorine so that it will be “safe” to drink.
And all this in a community still reeling from the effects of mercury poisoning for more than thirty years, in the richest province in one of the most affluent countries in the world – “happy Colonialist’s Day”.