Mercury poisoning survivors and experts from Minamata, Japan — the site of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters — have arrived in Ontario to help assess the impact of a similar contamination on First Nation people there, a month after a hunger-striking chief prompted the provincial government to re-examine its compensation policy.
Steve Fobister, an elder and former head of the Grassy Narrows band located in a remote area of northwestern Ontario, began his action on July 29 over perceived government inaction over demands that aboriginal people receive full recompense from the Canadian government and companies responsible for pollution on their land.
Elders of the band argue that many Grassy Narrows members showed symptoms of mercury poisoning stemming from historic contamination of local water systems, but were not recognized by the government — and, therefore, did not receive compensation. It is hoped that the Japanese delegation will be able to use their expertise to help provide further evidence to prove the scale of the poisoning.
The same day Fobister began his hunger strike, Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer agreed to review official policy.
"One way that my fellow ministers and I will work with Grassy Narrows First Nation is to champion a review of the Mercury Disability Board, to determine how best to help those with mercury-related health issues," Zimmer said in a statement on July 29. Zimmer also personally visited the community of Grassy Narrows earlier this month.