Grassy Narrows First Nations Demands an end to Clear-Cut Logging on Their Lands

Guest blog post by Maryam Adrangi, an awesome activist and former SYCer.

On July 31, members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation will head to the Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto and are calling on supporters to join them “in a walk for clean water and indigenous rights.” Two days before, on July 29, there will be a speaking event with Grassy Narrows Clan Mother Judy Da Silva, Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister, writer and activist Leanne Simpson, and Stephen Lewis. Here’s why:

It is shocking that neither Canada nor the province of Ontario have recognized even one case of mercury poisoning in the 50 years since the province allowed 10 tonnes of mercury to be dumped into the Wabigoon River, which provides numerous communities with water and fish. It is even more shocking that this river has never been cleaned up and continues to provide these communities with water and fish.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency advise that any spill larger than 2 tablespoons of mercury should be reported to the state environmental agency, and it is mandatory to call the National Response Center. But just north of the border, tonnes of mercury can be put into river systems with little concern about cleanup, remediation and human health – apparently. Citizens of Grassy Narrows, however, can’t afford to ignore mercury contamination.

Grassy Narrows, or Asubpeechoseewagong in Anishnaabe, is located in Treaty 3 territory in northern Ontario. It is one of the communities still facing the impacts of the Dryden pulp and paper mill’s reckless disposal of mercury more than a half century after the spill.
A 2012 report found that mercury impacted the health of 59% of the 160 people examined in Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations, both of which are located downstream from the paper mill. Even among people between the ages of 21 and 41, 44% of those tested have experienced health impacts from mercury poisoning.

The dangers of mercury poisoning made international headlines from Minamata, Japan, after the Chisso Corporation released large quantities of industrial wastewater into the water supply of a community that relied heavily on fishing to support its economy and local diet. Entire families developed a neurological disorder that impacts muscular coordination and can cause birth defects, now known as Minamata disease.

Japan formally apologized for allowing mercury disposal to devastate community health and the local economy, and Chisso was forced to financially compensate residents suffering from the disease as well as local fishing cooperatives for their losses.

A legacy of abuse – and resistance

Members of Grassy Narrows and White dog have been demanding similar forms of compensation for those diagnosed with some level of Minamata disease. The Mercury Disability Board in Canada, however, rejected 75% of those applicants who were diagnosed with the disease by Japanese experts. While disappointing, this outcome is not surprising to a community with a long history of colonially imposed residential schools, dams and logging – known to exacerbate mercury contamination in water systems.

In the 1990s, the provincial government opened up the region’s forests – home to numerous Indigenous communities, including Grassy Narrows – to clear-cut logging. Logging drove away wildlife and impacted trappers’ ability to fish and hunt on their lands, traditional activities which are legally protected through Treaties.

In 2000, three Grassy Narrows trappers – Joseph Fobister, Andrew Keewatin and Willie Keewatin – took legal action against the Province for violating their Aboriginal Treaty Rights. Their case dragged on and the community saw it needed to take stronger action. So in 2002, First Nation members set up what was to become one of the longest Indigenous blockades in Canadian history.

Speaking tours, rallies, educational campaigns and petitions have all helped the community gain widespread support for its court case and blockade. In the meantime, Grassy Nations has successfully forced numerous companies to stay off its territory. Forestry giant Abitibi-Bowater surrendered its forestry license in 2008 and large-scale clear-cuts have stopped, for now. Domtar, the largest office paper producer in North America, and Boise Inc. have committed not to source wood from Grassy Narrows’s traditional territory.

Fighting to Keep Their Forests

But the community’s fight is far from over. The high-profile case known as Keewatin v. Ontario (Natural Resources) was originally closed in 2011 when Ontario Superior Court Justice Sanderson ruled in favor of the community, saying that Aboriginal Treaty rights to hunt and trap supersede the Province’s rights to resources on the Nation’s land. But the Province has continued to develop a 10-year Management Plan for logging in the Whisky Jack Forest where Grassy Narrows is located, in disregard of the ruling.

The fight is once again heating up. Now that the case is out of the courts, members of the community have hit the streets. At the end of July, members of Grassy Narrows will take their demands for justice to the Provincial legislature for the 4th biannual River Run.

At the River Run in 2012, Kathleen Wynne, then the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, spoke with community members and said publicly that she would visit the community, promising to rebuild Ontario’s relationship with Grassy Narrows. Now Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of the Province and Grassy Narrows is calling on her to cancel new plans for clear-cut logging on Grassy Narrows territory and to protect the water.

To get involved, lend support or find out more about Grassy Narrows and the upcoming River Run, visit here.

A longer version of this post can be found here.

Student Stories from the Field!

Melanie on her way to the BC Food Systems Network

Melanie on her way to the BC Food Systems Network

SYC’s student leaders inspire us every day. And it turns out, they are inspired too! The following is a reflection from UNBC’s Campus Food Strategy Group Coordinator and a local food hero! 

Melanie’s Reflections: 

My name is Melanie Anderson, and I have been involved in the Campus Food Strategy Project since January 2014 at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, B.C. My experience working with Sierra Youth Coalition and Meal Exchange has been amazing and their continual support has driven a vast majority of the positive changes surrounding food at my University Campus. 


Recently, from June 26th to June 29th I was fortunate enough to attend the 16th annual BC Food Systems gathering in Sorrento with Nitha Karanja, the Healthy Communities Coordinator at UNBC. Though I am currently living in Prince George, I am originally from Ontario, so I have not had the opportunity to travel much around British Columbia. When the opportunity arose to drive through B.C. to a food network gathering I was delighted to partake in the experience.


The focus of this years gathering was Revisiting our Roots: Honouring Our Bio-Cultural Heritage. The three day program featured informative workshops, interactive sessions, and discussions on various topics including, Indigenous land and food systems, farms, and and water protection, seed saving, GMO awareness, year of the Family Farm, and biodiversity. 


As it was my first time attending the annual BC food systems gathering it was great to meet and interact with the key players involved with food issues in B.C. Overall I enjoyed the experience and the new relationships I have built will help me further my work at UNBC. Next year the gathering is being held in the North, so myself along with the other CFSG coordinator are eager to be involved with the planning and possibly even running a session of our own surrounding food systems in Northern B.C. As a Campus Food Strategy Coordinator I am excited to share my knowledge and past experiences while working on food initiatives in the North. 

Edible Campuses

Summer is a time to get outside, to dig our toes into the soil and be amazed, once again, at the amazing colours of pollinators and plants. SYC has the great fortune of supporting 11 campuses across the country with their campus gardens! 

Image (more…)

GrassRoutes: Students Cycle to the Arctic to Promote Sustainability

I am passionate about all sorts of things, but cycling, the Arctic and climate change are definitely near the top of my list. This summer, I am going to pursue all three passions as I join three other young Canadians on a biking adventure in northern Canada. Our “Journey to the Midnight Sun” starts in Vancouver and ends in Inuvik, though I will be participating only in the Whitehorse to Dawson City leg. The purpose of this journey is to promote climate change education and sustainable living. Along our journey, we will deliver interactive workshops about climate change and environmental leadership in partnership with BYTE . We will also raise funds for a northern bike sharing co-op and make a short documentary. I cannot wait!

I am biking with three other inspiring Canadian youth: Saskia, Graham and Gavin. We are all members of GrassRoutes ( – a group of students who believe in biking as a means of personal growth and social change.

This summer, GrassRoutes will build on the success of its two previous journeys. Last summer, GrassRoutes biked from BC to Nova Scotia, raising $14,684 for youth environmental projects and hosting 22 environmental leadership workshops for 680 Canadian students. This spring, GrassRoutes biked from Erizan to Istambul to raise funds for a grassroots microfinance initiative. GrassRoutes cannot wait for its next adventure!

With only a few weeks until I head off, I am getting extremely excited for my adventure! I have never been on a long bike trip, so this will definitely be a step outside of my comfort zone. I am looking forward to learning more about myself, my lovely team mates and the Yukon during this journey. I am particularly excited to speak with Yukon youth about climate change and learn about their perspective on this issue that affects all Canadians.

The entire GrassRoutes team is very grateful for the support of the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Education Fund. With SYC’s help, The Sierra Club Canada Foundation set up an online donation page for us and is offering charitable receipts for donations!

To learn more, get involved or donate, please visit our website at

Peace & bicycle grease,

Jessica (and the rest of the GrassRoutes team)

Jessica is a student and former chair of the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Executive Committee

Creative Solutions to Campus Food Waste

Often when we think about the food system we think about the process of getting food from farm to plate – the planning, planting, production, harvesting, processing, distribution, marketing and preparation of food. But what happens to the food that gets wasted along the way and the food that gets left on our plates?
Unfortunately, close to half of all food produced worldwide is wasted — discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens. On campuses, this waste is often transported off of campus which results in transportation greenhouse gases in addition to the methane emissions produced by landfills. Food waste is discouraging and costly for campuses – which is motivating campus dining halls to find new and innovative ways of reducing waste.

Mt. Allison's Food Waste Campaign

Mt. Allison’s Food Waste Campaign

During their East Coast Campus tour, the Campus Food Systems Project National Coordinators Caitlin and Sarah saw how campuses were taking creative and diverse approaches to reduce waste.

  •  Memorial University conducted an audit to determine how much waste was being generated and ways to reduce waste produced.
  • St. FX found that going trayless is a great way to reduce the amount of food wasted and is saving 80 000 gallons of water used in the cafeterias annually.
  • Dalhousie installed scraping stations which help build awarness of food waste and encourage students to only take the amount of food they plan to eat. Scraping stations are a part of the Green Report Card where Dalhousie received an “A” grade for food and recycling. Mt. Allison found scraping stations have decreased food waste by 44% over the past five years.
  • Campuses are also finding creative ways to reduce and reuse campus food waste. Mt. Allison puts the organic food separated at its scraping stations through a food pulper to remove 88-90% of its waste. This is then sent to the twin Big Hanna composters which will be used on campus grounds.

These are just a few of the many creative solutions campuses are finding to build awareness about and actively reduce and reuse food waste. We’d love to hear other ideas and initiatives – feel free to send questions, comments and ideas to us

Sustainable residences contest


Bad environmental habits when arriving home? Not at Quebec’s university and CEGEP residences.

The second edition of the PJDD’s Sustainable Residences contest will take place between February 4th and 15th. The residences will compete for different prizes in 4 categories:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Waste management
  • Sustainable management
  • Participation

Last year Laval and McGill (down town and Macdonald) took the prizes home. This year CEGEP residences are invited to join the competition with the chance to win tickets for a park of Arbre en arbre, recycling stations of NI Corporation, T-shirts of PLB and many other prizes.

The contest is an excellent occasion for participating residences to emphasize sustainability initiatives in these dynamic places of public and private life that are often under represented in sustainable development projects. At the same time it offers an opportunity for students to engage themselves for a sustainable living environment by posing concrete actions in a friendly competition.

Follow the contest life on and leave your comments to encourage the participants.

Blog invité: Mes 6 leçons du Sommet National des étudiants sur la nourriture

1- Tout le monde mange, tout le monde change
Comment motiver les mangeurs de ce monde à changer leurs habitudes? Joshna nous conseillait de commencer par une approche neutre. Selon elle, il faut d’abord réussir à créer un lien avec l’autre personne. Son truc! Réussir à faire vivre à son interlocuteur un souvenir concernant la nourriture dont il garde un sentiment positif (ex. : penser au meilleur repas que votre mère préparait lorsque vous étiez petit!) Lorsque le lien est bien établi avec votre interlocuteur, préciser votre besoin pour qu’il vous aide à changer le monde par l’alimentation responsable.

2- Un groupe c’est composé de deux choses toi et… le groupe, il faut prendre soin des deux!
Vous travaillez au sein d’un comité pour régler des problèmes reliés à l’alimentation, mais il règne une certaine confusion? Selon Carly, la plus grosse difficulté est que : « Dans un groupe, la perception du projet est souvent claire dans la tête de chacun, mais le projet commun n’est pas bien défini! » Sa solution! Définir ce projet commun, puis écrivez un document clé relatant l’idée du groupe par rapport à votre projet et signer ce document, même si c’est juste pour un an!

3- S’il y a un problème, on peut le régler!
Rencontrez-vous des gens qui ont une vision tellement différente de la vôtre qu’il ne constate pas les enjeux? Au lieu de s’enrager à essayer de changer leur vision du monde, Layton nous encourageait à préparer notre projet et attendre des moments charnières (un renouvellement de contrat de fournisseur, un changement de personnel, un audit environnemental, etc.) avant de prendre une approche offensive.

4- Apprendre des autres, mais agir avec notre intuition
Vous est-il déjà arrivé d’avoir la tête remplie d’opinions, de conseils et de données, mais de ne pas savoir comment agir? Dans un domaine où l’esprit scientifique est roi comme celui du développement durable, Nitha nous donnait cette sage leçon : « soyez curieux, prenez les avis de tous, mais agissez avec votre “guts” ». Les dynamiques des campus au Canada sont très différentes et votre « feeling », « guts », « intuition » (appeler ça comme vous voulez!) peut devenir un outil très utile pour sortir de cette complexité apparente.

5- Ensemble on peut changer plus de monde plus rapidement!
Tina nous a confirmé que grâce aux étudiants, entre autres ceux de Mcgill, l’Aramak un géant de l’alimentation change de plus en plus ses pratiques. Aussi, des établissements d’enseignement réservent une partie de leur jardin pour offrir la récolte à Tracy qui les distribue dans des banques alimentaires locales. À Toronto, des étudiants ont créé le Dig in campus agriculture network pour supporter et encourager les projets de jardinage communautaire. Des initiatives comme ça, le sommet en a relevé des tonnes! Joindre un mouvement comme The National Student Food System, c’est motivant et cela sauve beaucoup d’énergie, car on peut apprendre énormément de toutes ces initiatives.

6- Il faut faire évoluer « quoi? » à « maintenant quoi? »!
Qu’est-ce qui vous a surpris dans cet article? Qu’elle ait la notion apprise qui pourra vous aider dans le futur? Comment pouvez-vous agir dès maintenant pour mettre en pratique cet apprentissage? C’est ainsi que Lisa a terminé sa conférence, j’en fais donc de même. Pour ma part, maintenant que je connais The National Student Food System, j’en fais mon devoir d’aider les étudiants québécois à prendre leur place au sein de ce mouvement national. J’y travaillerai entre autre chose à travers la campagne Café durable qui vise pareillement l’amélioration des services alimentaires sur les campus et qui propose plusieurs idées, des études de cas, un tableau compilation des projets existants, etc. Ensemble, ces deux projets offrent une multitude de ressources à tous les niveaux qui je crois sont des incontournables pour allé de l’avant maintenant. »

Vous étes curieux d’en apprendre davantage sur les personnes citées je vous incite à lire leurs biographies au

Alexandre Ouellet
Agent de développement durable
Partenariat jeunesse pour le développement durable (PJDD)
Attaché à la FEUQ


Protecting the Fawn River watershed: The KI Nation trip to Hudson’s Bay

From August 24 to September 7, a team of paddlers from the KI Indigenous Nation will travel 400 km beyond the nearest road to travel the ancient trading route from their remote fly-in community to Hudson’s Bay.

The Fawn River watershed is the keystone to the KI Nation’s culture, and is also at the centre of the world’s largest intact forest. In response to the threat of mining in this sacred place, the KI people are calling on Ontario to respect their deep connection to the Fawn River and to protect the area for future generations.

“The KI people have protected our entire home watershed through Indigenous Law,” said KI Chief Donny Morris. “Now we are calling on Ontario to respect our protection before this sacred landscape is poisoned by the diamond, gold, and metals mining companies who have set their sights on it.”

The team will communicate throughout their travels through satellites in order to transmit blogs, photos, and audio to thousands of supporters via social media portals. They will be sharing the landscape with threatened woodland caribou, wolves, sturgeon, polar bears, beluga whales and the iconic northern lights. You can follow their journey at

KI and their allies have already stopped mining companies like Platinex and God’s Lake Resources from carrying out exploration on their land. Through bold action campaigns, the community has also successfully pressured the Ontario government to withdraw approximately half of their watershed from all mining activity.

The ultimate goal now is to protect the entire watershed, which accounts for more than 13,000 square kilometres of pristine wilderness. Ontario has yet to recognize KI’s right to protect this space in its entirety and to govern their Homeland. Much of the community’s watershed remains open to speculation by gold, diamond, and metals mining companies.

Indigenous communities like KI are dependent on the integrity of ecosystem functioning and the safeguarding of water sources in order to survive. Last year, an overwhelming majority of individuals from the KI community voted in support of the KI Watershed Declaration, which places the entire 13,025 square km of their vast intact watershed off limits to industry under KI’s Indigenous Law.

The wetlands of the KI Homeland, located in the expanse of Canada’s Boreal Forest, form part of one of the world’s largest on-land carbon sinks, which plays a critical role in mitigating climate change. The Boreal is also the world’s greatest reservoir of fresh water, and is among the largest unlogged forests left on earth. Some of the spectacular rivers in the world flow through territories of Indigenous Nations in Ontario’s Far North, each running for hundreds of kilometres, unimpeded by dams or manmade constructs. The pure water is stored in expansive, pristine watersheds, which provide an invaluable source of clean water for the peoples of Canada’s North.


Please support the KI Nation and help protect their land and water. Here is what you can do:


– Share KI’s story. Follow the KI Watershed Expedition at They will be posting blogs, photos, videos, action alerts and more throughout the expedition.  Please share the story through your networks by re-posting emails like this one on on facebook, twitter, websites, and email lists.

– Tell the Ontario government to respect KI’s demands to govern their territory and protect their land and water from unwanted mining.

– Join the KI Supporter facebook page at:   

– Link to the KI Watershed Expedition page.  There is a web button for you to embed and share.

– Post a blog about the event on your web page. A sample blog that you can adapt is online at:

Thoughts from the train tracks and SYC looking forward

By Ellen Dashwood, Sierra Youth Coalition Executive Committee Member

This work by Ellen Dashwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

ExComm member Ellen travelling on Via Rail

This year I had the opportunity to take a solo journey from Vancouver to Ottawa by train. This is a trip I probably would not have done at 25 years if I were not a member of the Sierra Youth Coalition and its Executive Committee (ExComm), and of course if it were not for the organization’s partnership with VIA Rail Canada.

At the end of June, the ExComm and Staff of the Sierra Youth Coalition gathered in Ottawa for a weekend-long training and retreat to mark the start of a new “ExComm” term. This will be my second year as an ExComm Member but my first time attending the training retreat, which happens every year. Since a few days of travel is required to get from the West to the East, I unfortunately could not afford the time last September when I was knee-deep in grad school commitments.

This year, thanks again to our unique partnership – and to having a bit more time on my hands since finishing (most of) my master’s requirements – I was able to embark on this unforgettable travel experience and attend an energizing retreat with fellow ExComm and staff. The weekend allowed us to engage in team-building and strategic short- and long-term action-oriented planning that I have no doubt helped to prepare SYC for the beginning of a successful year ahead. I also don’t think we could have asked for a more dedicated and talented staff and ExComm, so I feel very fortunate to be a part of this team.

Because we were so busy all weekend with back-to-back learning and planning, I failed to take any pictures in Ottawa, but I did of course take a number of shots along the way from Vancouver to Ottawa. I’ve posted some of my favorites below. Hopefully these pictures capture reasons why train travel is so exciting and enjoyable.

It might take much more time than flying, but it offers so much more that you really miss while travelling at 30,000 feet. Not to mention the carbon emissions saved by taking the train! Some quick research found that approximately 3500 km is travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization Carbon Emission Calculator, this distance travelled by plane generates about 275 kg of CO2, while the same distance travelled by rail generates less than half (about 110 kg of CO2, according to the Carbon Footprint’s public transit carbon footprint calculator).

If you’re interested in taking the train – I truly recommend it. I also strongly recommend becoming a member of the Sierra Youth Coalition to receive up to 40% off Via Rail travel anywhere in Canada. By becoming a member, in addition to the Via rail discount, you gain other member benefits such as networking opportunities with a growing community of students and young professionals in the field, and regular newsletters with info on upcoming conferences, workshops, and relevant jobs.

SYC partners in the newly launched Sustainability and Education Policy Network

Professor Marcia McKenzieMarcia McKenzie, from the University of Saskatchewan Department of Educational Foundations and School of Environment and Sustainability, leads a $3 million initiative called the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN). The network is exploring new models to improve how environmental sustainability is taught and practiced in schools, universities, and other educational institutions.

“Climate change, new environmental technologies, energy and water sustainability are not solely technical issues,” McKenzie says. “They are also cultural and political challenges. To respond to these challenges, we need integrated solutions that depend on and assume a citizenry that is both informed and motivated.”

Although environmental issues are often prominent in the news and public discourse, there is little knowledge about how these issues are being taught and lived, and what policies are driving the lessons. Part of the challenge is the number of players involved – everyone from provincial governments and their ministries, to school boards, university administrations, and even not-for-profit environmental groups – many of whose efforts are uncoordinated with the others.

To address this, SEPN academic partners include York University and Lakehead University, and organizational partners include the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the David Suzuki Foundation, Learning for a Sustainable Future, and the Sierra Youth Coalition. Six other groups are contributing to the project: the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Office, the Sustainability Solutions Group, the Global Youth Education Network, Ecosource, and the Canadian Federation of Students.

SEPN will begin by analyzing existing policy concerned with environmental sustainability in provincial ministries of education, federal First Nations’ school administration, and post-secondary institutions. From there, the researchers will conduct community-based site analyses to see how these policies are experienced in the classroom, in how organizations conduct their operations, and by the broader community. With this knowledge in hand, the network plans to develop a set of best practices and policies to engage decision-makers in furthering environmental sustainability efforts across the country through education.

For more information visit