Queen's Park members voted unanimously to pay tribute to the late Steve Fobister of Grassy Narrows yesterday. Keewatinoong member Sol Mamakwa offered his thoughts.

"He would want us to keep fighting, until the fish from the English River, the Wabigoon River was safe to eat and the water was safe to drink," he said.

The waterways were contaminated by mercury, leading to First Nation members being poisoned.

In 2014, he went on a hunger strike at the legislature to back demands for a clean-up, as well as improvements in supports for those still dealing with the illness. It ended after a commitment from the provincial government.

Mamakwa noted Fobister passed away late last week from complications related to Minimata Disease.

Kenora - Rainy River member Greg Rickford -- who is also the minister for Indigenous Affairs -- also paid tribute.

Services for the former chief and grand chief were set for this morning in Grassy Narrows.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I recognize the member for Kiiwetinoong.

Mr. Sol Mamakwa: I believe we have unanimous consent for both myself and Minister Rickford to say a few words about Chief Steven Fobister Sr.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Is there unanimous consent? Agreed.

Once again, I recognize the member for Kiiwetinoong.

Mr. Sol Mamakwa: I rise in this House to honour the life of Steven Fobister Sr. of Grassy Narrows who has passed on. Steve was a former Grassy Narrows chief and also a former grand chief of Anishinaabe Nation, Treaty 3. He was a tireless advocate and a fighter for Grassy Narrows and Anishinaabe people, and a teacher of younger generations.

Some in this place will recall in 2014 he came here, ready to sacrifice his life through a hunger strike, in order to finally get some justice for the suffering his people have faced since the mercury was released into the river 60 years ago that destroyed their way of life, fishing and hunting and destroyed their health. A commitment was made to him then.

Ultimately, the complications due to Minamata disease took Steve’s life. He would want us to keep fighting until the fish from the English-Wabigoon River was safe to eat and the water safe to drink.

On behalf of my people in the Kiiwetinoong riding and the NDP caucus, I want to extend my condolences to Steven’s family and to the people of Grassy Narrows. Miigwech.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I recognize the minister of northern affairs.

Hon. Greg Rickford: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Just to add to my friend and colleague across the way, perhaps on a more personal note: I sat across the table from Steve Fobister 15, 20 years ago as a young lawyer, taking his instructions. If he was unwell, you’d never know it. He was a testament not only to his community, Treaty 3 and the Anishnawbe people of northern Ontario, he set a standard for leadership, one I think that we should all be clear on. It was the basis recently for a visit by myself and my colleague and friend, Rod Phillips, the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, to Grassy Narrows. Much of the work that we reaffirmed and that we announced is a testament to governments previous and present that remain committed to closing a dark chapter of Grassy Narrows history.

I think it’s pretty safe to say, in perhaps one of those pure non-partisan moments, that we all have an investment in Grassy Narrows and their well-being, and that we’ve all had in some way—some more direct than others—an opportunity to meet and experience this incredible man’s life, his leadership and his legacy. I thank him for his contributions. We’re thinking of his people and the community today. Thank you.

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