Jessica Bell

How an Indigenous Community Defeated a Logging Giant

It was below zero degrees Fahrenheit on the night of Dec. 2, 2002, when sisters and young indigenous mothers Chrissy and Bonnie Swain from the Grassy Narrows First Nation drove from their reserve, located in the southern fringe of the vast Boreal Forest in northern Ontario, to the logging road just a few miles from their home.

The sisters felled trees over the road to protest unwanted logging on their land by Abitibi Consolidated. They then headed home, afraid their father would be mad at them. Instead, he was proud. Their protest was the spark that ignited their small community of 1,000 to launch a sustained direct-action campaign to stop logging.

Located about 250 miles north of the Minnesota border, Grassy Narrows First Nation's traditional lands span approximately 2,500 square miles. Throughout the 20th century the Ontario government has granted logging companies rights to log on Grassy Narrows' land, even though the permit violates the Canadian government's 1873 treaty agreement with the community and has been actively opposed by First Nation members. In recent years the logging -- currently being done by Abitibi Consolidated -- has intensified, often being conducted around the clock. By 2002, approximately 50 percent of the marketable wood on Grassy Narrows land had been logged.

Roberta Keesick, a Grassy Narrows blockader, grandmother and trapper, described the severity of logging in an interview with Rainforest Action Network campaigner David Sone in 2005:

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