Rudy Turtle was getting nowhere with the federal government that was supposed to help build a treatment centre for the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation.
After all but ignoring the problem for decades, the prime minister finally promised to build a centre for people suffering from mercury poisoning.
But Turtle said no because it didn’t suit the needs of people living there.
Not getting any further with the feds, Turtle took a run at a seat in the House of Commons in the riding of Kenora to push for the needs of the community from the inside.
He came up short but says he’ll continue to push Justin Trudeau and his words that he spoke during the federal leaders debate on Oct. 7.
“Money is not the objection to investing in what they need in that treatment centre,” Trudeau said.
Turtle said he’s going to remind the prime minister of his words.
“If he backs off then he just lied on national television,” Turtle said.
The mercury poisoning that is plaguing the community in northern Ontario was caused by the Dryden Pulp and Paper mill dumping tonnes of toxins into the local river system.
In 2017, Indigenous Services Canada promised Grassy Narrows a treatment care facility for those living with mercury poisoning.
But things stalled in the summer of 2019.
Turtle said Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan showed up in Grassy Narrows with his own plan – even though the community already had one.
“We have everything done in terms of studies and blueprints and plans and whatever,” said Turtle.
“All that is ready, we just need the government to fund it and it would mean a lot to the community once we get it going because it would treat the people who are suffering from mercury poisoning.
Turtle took on long time Liberal and former Indian and Northern Affairs minister Robert Nault.
They all lost to 21 year old Conservative candidate Eric Melillo.
The day after the election, Melillo met with Turtle.
Melillo calls him a champion of his community.
“I think it’s important in this Parliament in a minority situation that we have representatives going to work across party lines and work together to achieve the goals that we have,” Melillo told APTN News.
Melillo said he’d advocate for Grassy Narrows.
Youth coordinator Darwin Fobister said justice for Grassy Narrows should be a Canadian priority.
It’s sad seeing youth suffer from this, they don’t understand they’re sick because they tell me when I’m working, my hands feel shaky and they don’t understand why and I don’t want to tell them why,” he said.
Fobister’s grandfather, Steve Fobister Sr., was an advocate and chief who died last year, himself a victim of mercury poisoning.
“I think we’re just going to keep fighting on and on until we get our answers answered,” he said. “It’s an issue we need to focus on because it’s something we cannot forget about because it’s in our bodies for the rest of our lives, it should be dealt with right away.
“Again, it’s like a health crisis.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who was the only federal leader to visit Grassy Narrows during the election, is calling on the government to fulfill its promise to the people there.
“The new Liberal government must quickly deliver on the mercury treatment centre that was promised to Grassy Narrows nearly two years ago,” said Singh in a release sent out Monday night.
“The people of Grassy Narrows deserve the kind of care and treatment we would all want for our families.”
APTN News contacted the prime minister’s office to see if any travel to the community is planned. A spokesperson said they would keep APTN posted.
Trudeau announced last week that a new cabinet would be sworn in on Nov. 20 which means Grassy Narrows may have to explain its predicament to a new minister.
Rudy Turtle said he’s optimistic about working with Conservative Eric Melillo.
The new MP for Kenora said he plans to visit Grassy Narrows in the coming weeks.