Celebrating 20 Years of the Grassy Narrows Blockade

Woman infront of truck Art depiction of an Anishinaabe individual blocking a logging truck at Grassy Narrows First Nations

Averi Labancz-Vye, BHSc Candidate
School of Health Studies, Western University

How would you feel if you were sitting in your home and watched people take your belongings away from you? This is how the people of Anishinaabe people of Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows First Nation) felt, back in 2002, when their forests were being taken from them.

Indigenous is a term to describe First Nations, Inuit, and Métis People in Canada. With our Indigenous population consisting of 1.8 million people in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2021), we must understand Indigenous values and why today, the anniversary of Grassy Narrows is so important.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples have their own traditional teachings and practices, but I will only be highlighting one of the overarching themes within these: the Land. The Land is a sacred gift that was provided to humans by Mother Earth. We have the privilege of living here and taking what we need from the earth to survive. Indigenous peoples’ connection to Mother Earth is spiritual and creates an important dynamic in their values. It is our duty as humans to protect our earth and what we were blessed with as a form of reciprocity (Assembly of First Nations).

A Montreal-based logging company, named Abitibi Consolidated, began logging on Grassy Narrows territory in the mid-1990s. During the process, the Anishinaabe People felt that their Land was being damaged and that this Treaty Land was rightfully theirs. Watching the logging company take away their resources from Mother Earth was a painful experience and many did not know how to come forward. A group of three youth inspired the blockade on December 2nd of 2002, after finally deciding that enough was enough. Multiple adults joined this group of youth, as they laid in the trucking road to block the logging from continuing.

The physical blockade was an important moment that established the support of the Grassy Narrows community and an action against the logging company. The logging on their Territory was considered to be a “genocide of their community” (De Silva, 2016), as the trees provided by Mother Earth were a part of them.

Grassy Narrows First Nation filed for different lawsuits regarding the unlawful logging that was occurring on their Territory, but they were repeatedly ignored by the government. The Supreme Court decision was finally ruled out in 2013, stating, “Nothing in the text or history of the negotiation of Treaty #3 suggests that a two-step process requiring federal supervision or approval was intended,” wrote McLaughlin. “The reference in the treaty to Canada merely reflects the fact that the lands at the time were in Canada, not Ontario” (Free Grassy Narrows, 2016). Essentially, the Supreme Court looked into the fine lines of the Treaty that was written in 1873 and found loopholes to avoid ruling in favor of Grassy Narrows First Nation. The lawsuit ended with the requirement that logging companies obtain permission from the First Nation to continue logging on their Land, but these boundaries have continued to be pushed.

Despite the loss of the lawsuit, Grassy Narrows Chief, Roger Fobister, states that their community will continue “our fight to protect our lands and our people” and “continue to resist the expansion of unsustainable industrial logging in our territory” (Free Grassy Narrows, 2016).

The Grassy Narrows First Nations have endured this long-standing fight for too long. Along with many other impacts of colonialism in Canada, it is time that we progress to a true state of Truth and Reconciliation. By discontinuing logging on Treaty Lands we can ensure the spiritual connections of Indigenous people to their rightful Lands, while maintaining proper business relationships. With the woth anniversary of the Grassy Narrows protest initiation this December 2nd, we not only need to acknowledge the Celebration of 20 years of the courageous members who stepped forward to start the blockade, but also acknowledge the underlying issues of this story.

As an Indigenous student here at Western, it was a privilege to write this blog and share some historical knowledge about this landmark event for Indigenous people in Canada. Events such as this one highlight the true conflicts that are occurring in our society with climate change and the continuing impacts that Indigenous communities in Canada face.

Education is the first step to creating awareness, especially for stories such as Grassy Narrows that do not achieve the media publicity that they should. By reading this blog and educating others you know, you are taking the first steps to change. We have an Indigenous Initiatives Office and Learning Lodge now on campus offering resources and training to all: non-Indigenous and Indigenous students, faculty, and staff are welcome. Indigenous students are also being supported and supporting one another on campus to develop resources based on our interests and specialization (an example of student-authored pressbook on healing pratices to which I contributed here). Expanding knowledge on Indigenous culture and the profound impacts that can be made as we progress into the future is a way that we can achieve the Truth and Reconciliation that the Indigenous People of Canada truly deserve.



Photo Credit Sylvia Nickerson


Citizens for Public Justice. (September 21, 2003). Grassy Narrows blockade. Citizens for Public Justice. Retrieved from https://cpj.ca/grassy-narrows-blockade/

Dec. 2: Honouring 20 Years of the Grassy Narrows Blockade!. (2022). Free Grassy Narrows Support Grassy Narrows First Nations. Retrieved from https://freegrassy.net/blockade/

N.A. (2022). Honouring Earth. Assembly of First Nations. Retrieved from https://www.afn.ca/honoring-earth/

N.A. (September 21, 2022). Indigenous population continues to grow and is much younger than

the non-Indigenous population, although the pace of growth has slowed. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220921/dq220921a-eng.htm

Taking Action. N.D. Free Grassy Narrows Support Grassy Narrows First Nations. Retrieved from https://freegrassy.net/learn-more/grassy-narrows/taking-a-stand/#c151