The story is about the Grassy Narrows Nation, in Ontario, who currently have ninety percent of their population presenting with mercury poisoning. Ninety percent! It has finally been acknowledged, after almost 40 years, that drums containing salt and mercury were buried upstream of this First Nation, and that the mercury seeped out of those drums into the river water and into the drinking water of this community. This group has been begging for an investigation into what was causing all their health concerns for years. It has been revealed that one of the people involved with the burying of the material told officials many years ago, what had been done. However, that person’s story was dismissed and never investigated until now.
In my coaching, I often use the analogy of a river or stream to talk about life. Sometimes the context may be to examine where we are in the river of our life. For instance, we may be in the rapids. If so, the coaching helps uncover ways to either navigate the rapids or how to get closer to the calm waters near shore. Sometimes it is exciting to be in the rapids of life and we want to live there for a while. Other times we figure out ways in our day to get closer to the shore, where things are calmer and the water is easier to navigate.
After reading the articles about the situation at Grassy Narrows and the devastating, lingering effects of the mercury, I began to think about each of us and how we are subject to contamination from those upstream from us. When I realized that everyone in my circle of influence can be considered upstream from me I felt overwhelmed to realize that I could be impacted by almost any one at any time. I’m picturing trying to find a place to stake out for my ‘safe home’ where I can be sure that no one upstream can hurt me. Clearly this is impossible. What is possible however, is to situate myself so that as few toxic people as possible are upstream from me. Even this is very difficult. We interact with so many people in our lives, that the odds are great that some of them will dump their toxicity in our river. In addition, it can get exhausting to always be on the look out for people upstream who may not have our best interests at heart. So, my next effort at fortification is to learn to make sure I create a place to live that is strong enough to protect me from contaminants coming down my river of life. The best way to do this is to have a clear understanding of my values and of my worth, so that I learn to build a life that is based on my values and that is not simply a reaction to what others may think of me.
As I thought about this, I realized that it was easy to identify people who live upstream from me. It is easy to point the finger at the people making my life difficult. What isn’t so easy for me to accept is that there are many people living downstream from me, and each of them is impacted by what I choose to toss into the river that will pass through their lives. If I am being truthful, I need to acknowledge that I have the ability to affect the water quality of all those living downstream from me. This makes me think twice about my comments and my reactions, about my interactions and my intentions.
In reading the story about Grassy Narrows, what strikes me deeply this week is the lasting effect that can be felt from those upstream. I’m guessing that the barrels of salt and mercury were buried in a few days. Their effects are still being felt over forty years later. And the effects being felt are not faded memories; these are current, day to day health battles.
I hope I can be mindful enough to only put into the river, words and actions and interactions that are life giving so that those downstream from me will be happy that I am their upstream neighbour. I hope I am thoughtful enough to recognize that things I may have deposited in the river years ago may still be having lingering effects and to make amends for them. And I hope that I have the chance, the chance that the people of the Grassy Narrows Nation never had, to let the toxic waste that is deposited into the river upstream from me to simply flow on by.
My inquiry for you this week is, “What am I depositing?”