Assembly of First Nations National Chief Supports Youth Walkers from Mercury-Impacted First Nations

OTTAWA, June 5, 2012 /CNW/ - Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo today expressed support for six First Nations youth who walked from Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Grassy Narrows) to Toronto, a 2,000 kilometer trek. The youth are walking to raise awareness of the mercury poisoning in the English Wabigoon River system in Ontario, caused by the Dryden paper mill in the 1960s.  The youth walkers arrive in Toronto today to take part in River Run 2012, a series of events in support of Grassy Narrows.

"It is always inspiring to see our youth taking action to bring attention to a situation that most people either do not know about or have been ignoring for decades," said AFN National Chief Atleo. "These young people are real leaders and we offer our full support to Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation in their call for a public inquiry into the ongoing health impacts of mercury poisoning as well as their call for environmental monitoring and the establishment of a permanent environmental center."

In 1970, the Ontario government banned fishing in the English Wabigoon River system due to high levels of mercury in the fish and the water.  Without being allowed to fish, the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation immediately lost a major source of income and sustenance.

This type of mercury poisoning is called Minamata Disease, named for an outbreak in Minamata, Japan in the 1950s. In Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation, Minamata Disease, Minamata Disease with complications or possible Minamata disease have been diagnosed following the contamination of the river by mercury and again in recent years by Dr. Masazumi Harada from Japan, an expert in the field of mercury poisoning.  The Mercury Disability Board, set up by the Governments of Canada and Ontario, does not currently recognize all individuals who continue to suffer the effects of mercury poisoning.

"Both the federal and provincial governments need to recognize and effectively address the lasting issue of mercury exposure in First Nation communities along the English Wabigoon River system," said National Chief Atleo. "The action by these youth walkers must lead to a real commitment from governments.  First Nations across the country stand in support of these youth and the people of all affected communities."

Recent studies have shown that the mercury poisoning, first identified over 40 years ago, continues to affect the people of Grassy Narrows.  Furthermore, clear-cut logging in Grassy Narrows' territory over the past few years is also believed to be a contributing factor.  The Government of Ontario has recently released plans for further clear-cut logging in the territory.

On July 20th 2010, the AFN Annual General Assembly passed a resolution reaffirming the AFN's support of Grassy Narrows and other mercury impacted communities.

More information about the youth walkers and River Run 2012 can be found at: http://peaceculture.org/drupal/node/900.

The Assembly of First Nation is the national organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @NCAtleo, @AFN_Comms, @AFN_Updates.

SOURCE ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS

For further information:

Jenna Young, AFN Communications Officer 613-241-6789, ext 401 or cell: 613-314-8157 or jyoung@afn.ca

Alain Garon, AFN Bilingual Communications Officer 613-241-6789, ext 382 or cell: 613-292-0857 or agaron@afn.ca

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