The Responsibilities of Women: Confronting Environmental Contamination in the Traditional Territories of Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) and Wabauskang First Nation

  • Leanne Simpson Principle Investigator, Contaminants Project
  • Judy DaSilva Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek Contaminants Project Coordinator, Grassy Narrows First Nation
  • Betty Riffel Contaminants Project Coordinator Wabauskang First Nation
  • Patricia Sellers Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Carolina at Pembroke
Keywords: Environmental contamination, traditional foods, Indigenous Knowledge


From the early 1960s to the late 1970s, Reed Paper dumped more than 50 000 pounds of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system. At the time, Anishinabek people, whose territory encompasses the river system, were dependent upon the river for food and water. Fish from the river system were a staple in the diet of community members, and fishing was an important cultural and economic activity. People got their drinking water from the river and hunted and trapped animals that were also dependent on the same resources. Many community members suffered from severe mercury poisoning, and all communities dependent upon the English-Wabigoon river system continue to deal with the social, cultural and health impacts of living in a contaminated ecosystem. In 2003, a group of women from the communities of Asubpeechoseewagong Netum Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) and Wabauskang First Nation, located in North-Western Ontario began to study the impacts of environmental contaminants on their traditional territories using both Anishinabek knowledge and western science. They were concerned about the impact of environmental contaminants on the health and well-being of women and their children. From 2001 to 2005,  the two communities completed a large traditional foods testing program and held two Anishinabek Knowledge workshops to discuss the impact of contamination on their communities. The purpose of this paper is to share the women’s, Elders’ and Anishinabek Knowledge Holders perspectives on how contamination continues to impact their communities.