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A large drum that greets visitors to the community of Grassy Narrows First Nation is seen in an Aug. 29, 2019, file photo.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Ottawa and Grassy Narrows First Nation have reached a $19.5-million agreement for a long-promised treatment facility for members of the Northern Ontario community suffering from mercury contamination.

In a statement, Grassy Narrows said it has secured a signed contract to provide the full funding required to build a mercury care home in the community. The community said it sees the agreement as an important step in implementing promises made by the federal government since 2017 on the construction of the facility.

“This is a big step forward for our people, and I honour all of our youth, elders and community members who worked to make this happen,” Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle said Friday.

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"We will see that the mercury care home is built well, built quickly and meets the care needs of our people.”

Grassy Narrows has received national attention for its continuing struggle with the effects of mercury contamination of the English and Wabigoon rivers in the 1960s.

Advocates have pleaded for the construction of a local facility to help community members access medical treatments for debilitating symptoms that include problems with cognitive function, speech and vision. The hope is the centre will offer treatment in the community rather than having people seek help in cities such as Thunder Bay.

The push for a treatment facility was an issue in the 2019 federal election, with the chief running as an NDP candidate.

Indigenous Services Canada said it will provide $19.5-million toward the construction of the mercury care home as the community envisioned it.

“This historic framework agreement is the beginning of an important turning point," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said.

Grassy Narrows said Friday it will continue to seek long-term funding for the facility’s services.

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