New dance raises concerns around mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows

Jolene Banning
Award-winning two-spirit artist Waawaate Fobister is speaking out against the mercury poisoning that plagues his community of Grassy Narrows.

His latest work, Omaagomaan, which loosely translates to someone biting very hard,  will be shown in the trendy downtown Osbourne Village in Winnipeg, premiering Thursday at 8  pm with an afternoon matinee on Sunday.

Omaagomaan is female, made of mercury, and rising from the earth’s crust.

She is a fierce land protector, who has had enough of the pollution and toxins being dumped in the water, saying enough is enough.

“She came to me as a big claw coming out. It’s about the fierce land defenders of Grassy Narrows, my reserve, because of the mercury poisoning and forestry happening that’s been plaguing my people,” says Fobister about his new performance piece.

Fobister got started in theatre as a means of expression during his high school days.

He has won six awards, including outstanding new play, for his debut work Agokwe, the story of sexual identity when a teenaged-hockey player meets a teenaged traditional grass dancer.

His new work will be just as heavy-hitting as he draws from his personal experiences.

“I take on the role and responsibility of storyteller, to tell the story of my community – of my people and thinking about the seven generations behind and the seven generations ahead, and me being a vessel to tell what’s happening right now,” says Fobister.

Fobister also suffers from mercury poisoning much like many of his fellow community members.

He says his stomach hurts and it’s difficult for him to talk about his diagnosis.

He’s hoping his new work will draw attention to what his community is going through and the serious health problems they suffer.

Fobister is following in the footsteps of his late cousin, Steve, a long-time justice advocate and former chief of Grassy Narrows.

Fobister wanted to show the world the detrimental effects mercury poisoning had on his body. His cousin was weak, his body ached, jaw deteriorated to the point he could no longer chew.

In 2017, Ottawa promised to have a mercury treatment centre built by this fall. Yet consensus between the government and Grassy Narrows First Nation on the treatment centre have dissolved and now the government has called for an election. The fate of the treatment centre remains unknown.

“How do we survive? How do we live? Do we eat the poison they give us? We need something in place so we can keep living,” says Waawaate Fobister.

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