THIS STORY CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SUICIDE AND ATTEMPTED SUICIDE)
Research has linked youth suicide to the mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation.
Physiologist Donna Mergler worked on the study which looked at grandparents to mothers' exposure, mental health and children and youth risk for attempted suicide, and presented some disturbing facts at a Wednesday press conference.
"In the 70's following the mercury discharge, youth suicide in Grassy Narrows went from zero, it had been unheard of before that time, to very high. Between 1977 and 78 26 young people attempted suicide."
Numbers of those who participated in the study show the attempted suicide rate for girls aged 12 to 17 was 41-point-two percent, and 10-point-seven percent for boys.
The full study can be found here.
The origin of the contamination comes from the mill in Dryden, which at the time was known as the Reed Paper mill, where chemicals used in the process of manufacturing paper and other products, including 9,000kg of mercury, leached into the Wabigoon River system, which flows into Grassy Narrows.
During the press conference Chief Rudy Turtle expressed sadness over the report, but noted its confirmed what he and the rest of the community have been fearing all along of the impacts of mercury on his people.
Adding it has been devastating on multiple fronts.
"Our economy, our way of life, has been totally destroyed. We're unable to, 100 percent unable to continue our traditional activity. That we do still, as she [Mergler] mentioned, we still do fish and we still do eat the fish."
Turtle says two lodges in the area closed, putting fishing guides out of work, and ended the entire commercial fishing sector for the community.
This has in turn increased social issues due to the loss of jobs.
"Because of a lack of jobs, their self esteem goes down. Over the years we've done the best we can to address those issues, but at the end we need a lot of help, and we've been asking for help for such a long time."
The community does receive compensation, but the process to do so is difficult and only a few residents do get compensation.
Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa says the community deserves respect and meaningful support, with proper access to mental and physical health care.
"They are owed that by the federal and provincial governments who have failed them time and time again. I call on these governments to respond to these findings with specific actions and resources that have been called for by the community for years."
In addition to calling on governments to increase the amount of funding for specialized education and counseling due to the increase in suicides and suicide attempts to assist the mental health workers in the community, help the community recover from mercury contamination and improve the standard of living, Turtle also demanded those governments to respect Grassy Narrows' territory.
"We're calling on the government to withdraw from our territory things like logging mining and other industrial activities, you've done enough damage already, why do more?"
Turtle wants claims removed from the territory, to avoid further damage to the land with the goal of preserving the land for the children of the community.