In 1970, mercury contamination from a Dryden paper mill was discovered in the English-Wabigoon River system, leading to closure of the commercial fishery and some tourism related businesses. The Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations sought compensation for loss of jobs and way of life. On March 26, 1982, the federal government contributed $2.2 million to Wabaseemoong for economic development, social and educational programs. Wabaseemoong also signed a settlement with Ontario in January 1983. On July 27, 1984, the federal government contributed $4.4 million to Grassy Narrows for economic development and social service development/planning.
In 1985, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed committing government and companies (Reed Limited, and Great Lakes Forest Products Ltd.) to a one-time compensation payment. In 1986, the Government of Canada’s Grassy Narrows and Islington Indian Bands Mercury Pollution Claims Settlement Act and the Government of Ontario’s English and Wabigoon River Systems Mercury Contamination Settlement Agreement Act, facilitated the creation of the Mercury Disability Fund (MDF) and the Mercury Disability Board (the Board), which is based in Kenora, Ontario. The federal and provincial governments, as well as the two companies involved, paid a total of $16.67 million for the MOA compensation. Canada’s contribution was $2.75 million. Part of the First Nations’ MOA settlement ($2 million) was placed in a trust fund (which the Province of Ontario is responsible for replenishing when the balance drops below $100,000). The Board administers the trust as well as a benefits mechanism.
First Nation residents seeking benefits can have a neurological assessment done by a doctor who determines the severity of neurological symptoms based on a point system. That assessment is forwarded to an insurance company, which pays benefits from the trust fund.
INAC officials work with the Board as board members or members of sub-committees. The department funds half of the Board’s administrative costs, with the Government of Ontario funding the remainder. Since fiscal year 2001-2002, the department has contributed close to $200,000 to the Board’s administrative costs.
On September 4, 2003, then-Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Honourable Robert D. Nault, met with Grassy Narrows First Nation officials in Ottawa, and agreed to provide funding (approximately $8,900) to support a retreat held in Winnipeg, Manitoba on January 14-16, 2004 to discuss the Board’s work and mandate. Following the retreat, a final report and recommendations were developed. The Board will begin implementing these recommendations through its Annual Workplan.
For more information, please contact:
INAC Ontario Region
or (807) 624-1531