Today Canada signed a binding agreement with Grassy Narrows to provide $68.9M to run the Mercury Care Home. The funds will be used for the long-term costs of providing care and services at the facility. The Mercury Care home will have in-patient capacity for 22 mercury sufferers, as well as providing out-patient services for Grassy Narrows people who are suffering from the multiple facets of mercury poisoning. The new amendment to the Mercury Care Home Framework Agreement promises to provide the funding as a lump sum payment which Grassy Narrows can put into a trust to make sure that it is secure. This is an innovative funding model designed to provide reliable care to Grassy Narrows people who have suffered for so long.
“This is a big milestone for my people on our path to gaining dignified care for our people, and full mercury justice. I honour our many community members who worked for decades to make this happen against all odds,” said Chief Randy Fobister of Grassy Narrows. “Minister Miller has promised Grassy Narrows that Canada will be there as a partner to make sure that our loved ones who are suffering from mercury poisoning will get the good care that they need at the Mercury Care Home for as long as they need it. I respect Minister Miller for taking this important step today toward keeping his word. We expect Canada to continue to honour this sacred promise, and we will make sure of that. Our work is not done. There is still much more that needs to be done to restore the damage that mercury has done to our community.”
The $68.9M dollar figure is based on the amount needed to run the Mercury Care Home as estimated in a 2018 Feasibility Study. Recognizing the uncertainty about whether this funding will prove to be enough, today’s agreement includes a way to increase that amount in the future if more funds are needed to run the facility well and to ensure that the care needs of mercury sufferers are met in the long term. This agreement is rooted in Canada’s many promises that it will be a reliable partner to Grassy Narrows in ensuring that mercury sufferers are well cared for at the Mercury Care Home in the long term, and that never again will Grassy Narrows people be neglected by Canada as they have been in the past.
On April 2, 2020 Grassy Narrows and Canada signed the Mercury Care Home Framework Agreement which commits Canada to funding the construction and long term operation of the facility following Grassy Narrows’ plans. However, that agreement did not include a funding amount for the service costs, and committed the Minister to seeking authority for a number of actions intended to give Grassy Narrows certainty. Today’s amendment includes the following significant advances:
a. It commits $68.9M in funding for the long term services, operations, and maintenance costs of the facility; and
b. It commits to provide the $68.9M as an up-front lump sum payment that Grassy Narrows can put in a secure trust; and
c. It recognizes that the $68.9M may not be enough and creates a way to add more funds later if they are needed to meet the care needs of mercury sufferers; and
d. It commits Canada to supporting a long list of services at the Mercury Care Home including nurses, personal support workers, traditional healers, rehabilitation, and palliative care.
Grassy Narrows people were first inspired when they visited Japan in the 1970s and witnessed mercury sufferers being treated with dignity while receiving top quality care at the Minamata Clinic which became the Minamata Kyoritsu Hospital in March, 1978. After many years of frustration, the Mercury Care Home gained momentum in 2014 when the late Steve Fobister Sr., Grassy Narrows Elder and former Grand Chief, held a hunger strike on the front lawn of Queen’s Park. The issue rose to national prominence in the last federal election and Prime Minister Trudeau stated that “money is not the objection to investing in what they need in that Treatment Centre.” (English Language Debate, Oct. 7, 2019)
Preparations for the Mercury Care Home are underway and Grassy Narrows plans for construction begin in Spring of 2022, and for the facility to open in 2023.
Grassy Narrows was a vibrant and largely self-sufficient community with 95% employment, mostly in the sport and commercial fisheries, until the mercury hit more than fifty years ago. Much work remains to be done before Grassy Narrows has mercury justice. Grassy Narrows continues to call for fair compensation for the whole community for the broad impacts of the ongoing mercury crisis and for all support required to restore their health, way of life, livelihood, self-determination, lands, and waters.
Grassy Narrows people have been at the forefront of the movement for Indigenous sovereignty, land back, and environmental justice for generations and they continue to fight in solidarity with their cousins and land defenders across Turtle Island who are asserting sovereignty and title.
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