The economic and social impact of the remedy to the mercury pollution proved nearly as devastating to the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong Independent bands as the problem itself. The decline of tourism and the loss of traditional ways of life created social problems.
Grassy NarrowsGrassy Narrows, Ont, Unincorporated Place, Kenora District. Grassy Narrows is situated on the English-Wabigoon river system 89 km northeast of Kenora. In 1970 two OJIBWA bands in northwestern Ontario, the Grassy Narrows on the English River 21 Reserve, and the Islington (now Wabaseemoong Independent Nations) on the Whitedog Reserve (now Wabaseemoong Reserve), came to public attention when it was revealed that an alarming number of their members were displaying symptoms of the debilitating Minamata disease, a form of MERCURY poisoning named after the Japanese fishing village where it was first diagnosed in 1956. Studies determined that the fish eaten by these people contained excessively high mercury levels. The source of the pollution proved to be the chemical plant operated by Reed Paper Ltd as part of its pulp and paper operations at DRYDEN, upstream from the reserves. From 1962 to 1970 between 4 and 9 kg of mercury per day had been dumped into the Wabigoon River. The provincial government reacted to these findings by ordering Reed to cut its disposal of mercury; in fact, only after Reed ceased using mercury in its operations in November 1975 did the river systems begin to clear up.
The economic and social impact of the remedy to the mercury pollution proved nearly as devastating to the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong Independent bands as the problem itself. The decline of tourism and the loss of traditional ways of life created social problems. Alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, suicides and depression became all too common in the late 1970s. With the 1980s the situation began to change, largely because of the efforts of the people themselves. In 1986 these efforts were greatly enhanced when a long-awaited settlement was reached with Reed, its successor company Great Lakes Forest Products, and the federal and provincial governments, which provided $16.7 million compensation to the 2 bands.