Road blockade goes up again: MNR, Grassy debate road ownership

Grassy Narrows members are continuing their protest against MNR actions, which they see as interference with road maintenance.

Spokesman Steve Fobister said Tuesday conservation officers had been challenging the community’s roadblock at Slant Lake by harassing the contractor hired to do work. Fobister said the situation had been ongoing since Saturday, but they had yet to get a formal response from MNR.

He added the conservation officers were trying to impose the government’s guidelines on the contractor, as the workers sought to repair a washed out section of the access road to Ball Lake Lodge.

Despite the trouble, the contractor has agreed to finish the work, while the First Nation has assured him they would deal with MNR, or any government

“If they want to talk about environmental issues, we should talk about the mercury,” Fobister said, referring to the contamination of area waterways. “That’s an unresolved issue.”

Even though the Lodge was given to the First Nation as part of the 1986 mercury agreement, the ministry is still reserving its right to govern the maintenance of land surrounding it, including the access road.

According to spokesman Michelle Nowak, any work to repair roads on Crown land in the province would be subject to appropriate approvals which includes work permit applications.

She added the MNR has not received a proposal or work permit application with regard to this work.

“We are currently investigating reports of work being done in this area and would be concerned activities are being carried out within the guidelines of our legislation.

Our interest is environmental and also with workers’ and public safety,” she said during a short interview Tuesday afternoon.

Further, Nowak acknowledged that on Saturday, Aug. 21, a conservation officer from Kenora encountered the roadblock, while conducting a planned enforcement patrol related to residential and non-residential angling and bear-hunting.

“It is my understanding the encounter was polite and cordial for all involved. I understand the CO respected the blockade and turned around,” she said.

Talks between the First Nation and the province are ongoing, with regard to the clearcutting in the Whiskey Jack Forest. The community is demanding an end to the practice within its traditional land use area, which is within the forest.

Along with the eight-year old blockade, members of the community have also challenged the province’s authority to manage the forest through the courts.

Ultimately, negotiators for the community are seeking a moratorium on logging, until they reach an agreement with Queen’s Park of future land use. However, there is growing pressure to harvest on traditional lands, as an estimated 2,500 jobs in the depressed forest industry of the region depend on the Whiskey Jack.

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