Sitting under a large banner depicting a skull and crossbones that reads “No Mercury,” Grassy Narrows First Nation members publicly displayed designs for a planned care facility for people impacted by mercury poisoning.
“It’s been difficult,” said Grassy Narrows resident Darwin Fobister, who suffers from the poisoning, “because I have to go to the hospital every time and it costs a lot of money just to go into town.”
The care home, shaped like a giant canoe, would consist of 22 rooms for residents and care facilities, including a physiotherapy room and an examination room. It would also feature a kitchen, dining room, guest rooms and a traditional Indigenous healing space.
“If we have the mercury home, at least we can be closer to something where we can get help,” added Fobister.
But the Grassy Narrows members weren’t celebrating much at the unveiling of the care home’s design plans because they say that’s as far into the project as they’ll get — unless the federal government gives them the money that was promised to them to move forward with it.
“They understand what we’re asking for,” said Chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation Randy Turtle. “They just refuse to do it. Broken promises.”
The First Nations group from northwestern Ontario claims it only received one per cent of the $88 million that was promised in December 2017 by then-Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott.
The 1,600 residents of the First Nation reserve suffer from decades of mercury poisoning after a paper mill upstream from Grassy Narrows is believed to have dumped tonnes of toxic material in the 1960s.
Grassy Narrows leaders say that money has already been put towards a feasibility study and completing the facility’s designs.
“They’re stalling; they’re making roadblocks,” said Turtle. “It feels insulting and it’s not right.”
Turtle also used the press conference to call out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for attending the Raptors parade, rather than taking time to visit Grassy Narrows.
“It’s a shame,” said Turtle. “It’s easy for him to attend a Raptors championship parade. A couple of days ago he was sitting on the stage. He took time off for that and he won’t take any time to go stand in Grassy Narrows.
“I have called upon him again and again for him to come see us.”
Ray Racette, president of Lake of the Woods District Hospital, said in a letter to the director of the North West Local Health Integration Network that his hospital is willing to cover the costs it would take to send doctors to the mercury care home to treat patients.
That move allows the facility to overcome a major hurdle, although Grassy Narrows members say that doesn’t diminish the $88 million they still need to build the facility and keep it functioning for 30 years.
WATCH: Care home planned for Grassy Narrows mercury victims
In response to a request for comment from Global News, Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan said: “I am committed to working with Chief Turtle and council and committed to getting this right.
“We are ready to start flowing funds and can do so through a contribution agreement that will allow work to begin almost immediately.”