The snow has barely disappeared from the trees she so desperately works to save, yet Judy Da Silva is already dreading the likelihood of spending another frigid Northwestern Ontario winter on the Grassy Narrows First Nation blockade. “We just finished winter, and I’m already worrying about the next one,” says Da Silva, a resident of the Ojibwa-speaking community of 700 people, located about 70 kilometres north of Kenora.
“I don’t see an end to our struggle.”
On Dec. 3 of last year, the citizens of Grassy Narrows established the blockade and information centre on Highway 671, an access road used by logging trucks contracted by the Abitibi Consolidated pulp and paper mill in Kenora.
The company holds a sustainable forest licence from the Ontario provincial government to harvest spruce and pine in the Whiskey Jack Forest.
Da Silva says the removal of pine and spruce infringes on her people’s inherent aboriginal and treaty rights to hunt, fish and trap in their traditional territories. “We can’t give up,” says Da Silva. “I have children, and they have no voice. I am their voice and I have a hand in their future.”
Da Silva says about eight people are always at the roadblock, although back in early December a throng of 75 turned back the first of many trucks. She was there that day, but takes only a few shifts a week at the roadblock now.
The men who patrol the gravel road cook their meals on wooded stoves and sleep in heated roadside trailers, driving the five kilometres back to Grassy Narrows only to shower and clean their clothes.
Maintaining a protective presence at the blockade is a full-time job. Da Silva says, adding it’s an effective one. “They do not allow any trucks through that main road,” she says. “There is a spider web of other roads they can take from Kenora into our traditional land and back again. But what should take five hours takes them 11 hours. Little by little they are getting our trees, but we are creating a big pain for them.”