By Anna Willow, December 3, 2012. Source: Media Coop
On December 3rd of 2002, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation launched a direct action blockade to prevent the passage of logging trucks and equipment through their traditional territory. This December marks the 10th anniversary of the Grassy Narrows blockade, now the longest running logging blockade in Canadian history. Located fifty miles north of Kenora (a small Canadian city on the north shore of Lake of the Woods), Grassy Narrows is a semi-remote Anishinaabe community with an on-reserve population near 950. For generations, the people of Grassy Narrows have hunted, trapped, fished, and gathered throughout a vast 2,500-square-mile region drained by northwestern Ontario’s English-Wabigoon River system. Not only their livelihood, but their culture, language, and spirituality are closely connected to their boreal forest homeland.
In the 1990s, as industrial logging intensified across Canada, Anishinaabe subsistence harvesters watched clearcuts grow larger and draw closer to their 14-square-mile reserve with growing unease. They wrote letters to logging companies and government officials, but received no substantive response. They conducted peaceful protests in Kenora, Toronto, and Montreal, but the clearcutting continued. They requested environmental assessments and judicial reviews, but were only met with rejection and bureaucratic stalling. It was time to take a stand. One frigid early winter night, residents of Grassy Narrows decided enough was enough. Three young community members placed logs across a snow-covered logging road north of the reserve. They were soon joined by dozens of community leaders, teachers, and youth.
For most of us, ten years pass in the blink of an eye. In the whirlwind of family, friends, work, and life that fills each day (3,652 of them in this case) we rarely pause to take stock of what has or hasn’t changed. Anniversaries inspire this kind of reflection. In ten years, children become teenagers. Teenagers become adults and start families of their own. Beloved elders depart. And the rest of us continue traveling along the paths we choose—or the paths that choose us. The blockade has stood for ten years, but Grassy Narrows residents have fought for the right to make decisions concerning their traditional territory and to keep their land-based culture alive for much longer.