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Hundreds of natives, many who travelled all the way from Grassy Narrows, Ont., and many other support groups marched through Toronto's downtown to Queen’s Park on Apr. 7, 2010 to protest 40 years of mercury poisoning in their water. Some who are suffering from mercury poisoning were pushed along in wheelchairs. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a challenge of the Ontario government’s right to permit industrial logging on the traditional lands of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, which native leaders say will exacerbate mercury contamination.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a challenge to the Ontario government's right to permit industrial logging on the traditional lands of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

The First Nation appealed after Ontario's highest court ruled in March that the province has the right to "take up" treaty land for forestry and mining.

The northwestern Ontario First Nation has spent nearly 15 years in court fighting the province's decision to issue a licence for clear-cut operations in parts of the Keewatin portion of Treaty 3 territory.

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Chief Simon Fobister says Ontario continues to plan for clear-cut logging throughout Grassy Narrows Territory and is seeking input on a new 10-year forest management plan that includes dozens of large clear-cuts.

The First Nation says scientific studies indicate that clear-cut logging in boreal watersheds raises mercury levels in fish above the Health Canada limit for safe human consumption.

It adds recent clear-cut logging in Grassy Narrows territory has exacerbated the impact of mercury poisoning that began when a paper mill upstream in Dryden dumped mercury between 1962 and 1970.

"Our community has suffered for too long from the impacts of industry imposed on our people," said Joseph Fobister, one of the Grassy Narrows trappers who initiated the legal action.

"We cannot allow industry to further damage our way of life and our health by poisoning our water and destroying the forests that we depend on," he said.

Joseph Fobister called the decision by the Supreme Court to hear the case "further proof that our concerns are valid and important."

"It is sad that Ontario continues to ignore us when we tell them that clear-cut logging hurts our people," he said.

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A spokeswoman for the province's Ministry of Natural Resources said she could not comment directly on the case while it is before the courts.

"We remain committed to respecting treaty rights, while providing a stable environment for the resource development sector in Ontario," Jolanta Kowalski said Thursday.

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