Friday, December 18, 2009

Noopemig - A victory?

While all sides are claiming victory, it is only fitting that negotiations took place to close this chapter of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) - Platinex - Ontario conflict in much the same way this saga began; at the exclusion of the membership of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

On December 14, 2009, Platinex announced an agreement with Ontario, where it had “agreed to surrender its claims and leases and settle the outstanding litigation” in the disputed zone, “in exchange for an upfront sum totaling $5 million dollars in addition to the Company’s expenses throughout the Mediation process. The Company will also be entitled to a 2.5 % Net Smelter Royalty in connection with any future development on the property.”

This means that Platinex could earn a further 2.5% of mining revenues “should the province issue new mineral tenure in the next 25 years and a mine be developed.” The implications are that they will still be in the picture for the next quarter century regardless of who, if anyone, initiates mining activity in the territory. Any negotiations for mining will be impeded by this looming onus of responsibility of royalties. KI will not have the freedom to negotiate freely with this burden of royalties attached to the territory. It appears that this “victory” continues to have an overhanging cloud blotting out the silver lining.

The Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle says, “This is a unique situation, and I am pleased that we were able to reach a fair and reasonable negotiated settlement that will provide greater certainty to Platinex while allowing our government to continue working with KI to strengthen our relationship and to pursue future opportunities.”

We cannot forget that the relationship between KI and the government requires a lot of strengthening.  To begin with, the authorizations provided to Platinex were done through an antiquated Mining Act and without the Supreme Court of Canada duty to consult and accommodate being properly discharged to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. However, there is the small matter of incarcerating 5/8ths of the KI leadership for contempt. Oh yes, there is an even smaller matter of having outsiders able to make $5 million dollars + from territory claimed by KI while its members languish in poverty.  On top of all of this, is the ability of the company to raise a million dollars + to run a drilling program without the knowledge or consent of KI; or at least without the knowledge of a majority of the KI membership.

Chief Donny Morris stated, “I consider the decision of Platinex to not proceed with mining exploration in our territory as a major victory. My community was determined to stop Platinex and the Ontario government from arbitrarily imposing a mine at Nemeigusabins Lake…..I think the province needs to recognize that our free, prior, informed consent is necessary or mining development in the north could become a very expensive failure.”
There is a growing call for free, prior and informed consent from communities ringing across Noopemig. This experience teaches us that all First Nations should seriously consider how to engage Ontario to make sure the province reflects the international principle of free, prior and informed consent in law.  The KI experience tells us that work is required at the community level across Noopemig to make sure that all members have a say in decisions that affect the territory and their lives. Each community needs its own protocol that demonstrates how the consent of the community is to be achieved in an open and transparent manner.

This entire debacle could have been avoided if protocols and the laws as they pertain to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug were honoured and upheld by all parties.  This has been an expensive and costly exercise for all members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who have had to carry the full cost burden at a financial, emotional and spiritual level, and yet have no financial return to show for the experience. At the community level, the lesson of moving forward without the support of the full membership should not be lost upon us in the emotional relief of “victory.”

Now it’s time for Ontario to reach out to us in a fair and sincere manner so our community can begin the process of recovery and rebuilding.    

For Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, the healing from the impacts of this experience can, and must begin and your voice from Noopemig has reverberated loud and clear throughout Noopemig, the rest of the country and beyond.

Have a safe and Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Wildlands League video

See the new Wildlands League video demonstrating the urgency of protecting Noopemig and the life it sustains.  It's up to all of us to make a difference.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Revenue Sharing - A Piece of the Pie

I recently heard an Elder say that we, as the First Peoples, were given resources by the Creator from which we can make a living. He said, “God gave us resources to use from our lands. Our people did commercial fishing where we sold fish to make a living. We have the land and resources we can use instead of not doing anything with it.”

This message by the Elders has been consistent throughout the years and has been voiced repeatedly. When our forefathers engaged in the treaty-making process, they understood that they were agreeing to share the land and the benefits it provides with the newcomers.   
Unfortunately, the text of the treaty does not reflect the discussions as remembered by the elders. They recall agreeing to share the lands and its resources for mutual benefit and not mass land surrender.

The written treaty text states that upon signing the “said Indians  do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the government of the dominion of Canada, for his Majesty and his successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits, …….And his Majesty the King hereby agrees with the said Indians that they should have the right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered….subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by the government of the country, acting under the authority of his Majesty, and saving and excepting such tracts as may be required or taken up from time to time for settlement, mining, lumbering, trading and other purposes.”

Throughout Noopemig, northern-based mining, forestry, tourism and agricultural industries contribute more than $23 billion annually to the Ontario economy.

In March of 2006, then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, (MAA) David Ramsey, announced the Northern Table process (now called Oshki-Machiitawin) with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chiefs, where he stated, “Today, we are embarking on something new and different. The new political level Northern Table will address some of the challenges to achieving prosperity and well-being in northern Ontario and enable First Nation communities in the north to share fairly in the benefits of natural resource development.”

When the NAN Chiefs asked Minister Ramsey to stop issuing permits while discussions were being held at the newly established Northern Table, he responded, “If you want a piece of the pie, you have to allow development to continue.” As development continued, mining itself generated $11 billion in 2007.

Two years later in July 2008, Premier McGuinty made an announcement on the Far North including a commitment to resource benefit sharing. “The province will create an incentive for communities to allow exploration by ensuring they get ‘a piece of the action’ by way of a resource benefit sharing plan.”

When introducing the Mining Amendment Act in April 2009, Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle stated, “Working in conjunction with other government initiatives---such as the Far North Planning initiative and the $30 million set aside for Resource Benefits Sharing ---our proposed legislation would foster partnerships in development…promoting prosperity for Aboriginal communities and Ontario as a whole.”

If the $30 million set aside for Resource Benefits Sharing represents a “piece of the pie,” or a “piece of the action,” the fair share from resource benefit sharing for each of the 49 NAN communities amounted to $612, 244.89 when Minister Ramsey made his announcement in March 2006. That was 3.5 years ago, which, when divided over the same period would result in a lower amount.

It appears that while NAN Chiefs are talking about “revenue-sharing,” which is consistent with the elders understanding of the treaty commitments, the government announcements reference “resource-benefits sharing” which can be at the opposite ends of the spectrum much like  “a piece of the action” or “a piece of the pie.”

Resource benefits sharing could include employment and business opportunities while revenue-sharing would include the values realized from the mass volumes of resource extractions that have occurred and can occur throughout Noopemig, including royalties, user-fees and the like. However, the $30 million is referred to as a “down-payment” from resource benefit sharing and not revenue-sharing.

Ontario, through the MAA, communicated to the NAN technical working group that they were considering including the Métis Nation of Ontario in the resource benefit sharing discussions. Additionally, the Chiefs of Ontario, (COO) under its Joint Ipperwash Technical Table, has one of its seven work plans developed as Resource Revenue Sharing.  The sub-table heading of Resource Benefit Sharing (RBS) references the April, 2009 provincial announcement, “setting aside $30 million” for future resource benefit payments to First Nations in Ontario. So instead of just the 49 NAN communities, the $30 million will be disbursed amongst the 134 First Nation communities in Ontario and including the Métis Nation.

The work on the resource revenue sharing system must be completed by December 2010, basically guaranteeing that the down payment will not flow anytime soon, providing that once all is said and done, there will be enough left to disburse that will make a difference.

One other government initiative is the Proposed Northern Growth Plan which will strengthen the northern economy. One of the key actions identified in the 25 year plan is “building relationships with Aboriginal people to increase participation in the future economic growth of Northern Ontario and achieve better health status for Aboriginal communities.”

Minister Gravelle says, “The true strength of the north is its people, their resourcefulness and their entrepreneurial spirit. We are harnessing these qualities to develop a Grand Plan for Northern Ontario that is built by northerners, for northerners. We look forward to reaping the benefits in an innovative, robust and competitive northern economy.”    

The First Peoples throughout Noopemig continue to wait for the benefits to flow from the treaties for their fair share from the resources extracted from Dunakiiwin… 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Voices from the Northshore

Noopemig-Voices from the Northshore

I received an email from “Northshorewoman” regarding my blog-entry on the Mining Act receiving Royal Assent. The email reads as follows:

“I can see that there will be a lot of problems ahead such as, although it is definitely an improvement from the previous Act that allowed free access to lands for any Jack, Joe, Jill or corporation, the language seems such that much damage can still occur on traditional lands. Problematic to me is that claims prior to this amendment are outside of its legal arm. Also problematic for me, is that the language is such that while consultation of First Nations communities is required, their conclusions are not definitive or binding on decisions made. Is this true? Does the new Act still make First Nations voices a player in the power relations but not a player with veto?”

Upon introducing the Bill 173, Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle stated: “The point, … is that this comprehensive consultation, and the discussion it engendered, has produced a balanced piece of legislation.”

“The initial process of engaging with the aboriginal communities and stakeholders about the province’s minerals industry prepared our government well for the extensive and comprehensive consultation we undertook to prepare for amending the Mining Act.”

The Act states that “a dispute resolution process is established for disputes relating to Aboriginal consultation occurring under the Act, and it calls for the development of mineral resources, in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the duty to consult.”

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in its various rulings stated that the duty to consult and accommodate becomes engaged, “when the Crown has some knowledge of the existence of an aboriginal right to title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it.” It has also said that the duty to consult arises, “if the conduct might adversely affect aboriginal rights to land covered under treaty.” Along with these triggers, the SCC has referenced “good faith negotiations, upholding the honour of the Crown, meaningful consultation and reconciliation,” amongst other noble terms.

In the Mikisew Cree decision of 2005, the Supreme Court said, “it is not consistent with the honour of the Crown, in its capacity as fiduciary, for it to fail to consult with a First Nation prior to making a decision that infringes on constitutionally protected rights.” In another ruling, the court has said that several SCC cases have already stated that the honour of the Crown may require consultation prior to making a decision and “This in turn may lead to a duty to change government plans or policy to accommodate Aboriginal concerns. Responsiveness is a key requirement of both consultation and accommodation.”

 Under Bill 173, the “new” Mining Act, consultation may occur once a person has submitted an exploration plan, in accordance with any prescribed requirements, “including any Aboriginal consultation that may be prescribed.” This person will have had “applied for and been issued an exploration permit,” from the Director of Exploration, who may be appointed by the Minister from the officers and employees of the Ministry. This Director shall consider under S. 78.3 (2) (b), “Whether Aboriginal consultation has occurred in accordance with prescribed requirements, which may include consideration of any arrangements that have been made with Aboriginal communities that may be affected by the exploration.”

A dictionary defines accommodation “as an adjustment or adaptation to suit a special or a different purpose, a convenient arrangement; a settlement or compromise.” To accommodate is defined as to “adapt, harmonize or reconcile.”

So, to your question; are the conclusions of consultations with First Nations definitive (and are they) binding on decisions made?  It appears that the decision lies with the Director of Exploration, who has been selected from amongst the officers and employees of the Ministry, who may consider “any arrangements that have been made with Aboriginal communities that may be affected by the exploration.”  The Director, however, must first decide, “whether Aboriginal consultation has occurred in accordance with any prescribed requirements,” leaving the Ministry to make such determinations.

There is, however, a dispute resolution clause for Aboriginal consultation where the Minister can designate one or more individuals, or a body, “to hear and consider disputes….relating to consultation with Aboriginal or treaty rights or to the assertion of Aboriginal or treaty rights, including disputes that may occur.”

Once a report and recommendations  are made by the designated body to the Minister, the dispute resolution outlines the Ministers powers dealing with Aboriginal consultation  in the permitting, advanced exploration and the mine production stage in the following manner:

a)      Confirm, vary, rescind a Directors decision for a section 78.3 exploration permit.
b)      Provide such further direction or support respecting consultation for the advanced exploration and mine production stage.
c)      Take any action that he or she considers appropriate in the circumstances.

While the First Peoples can still provide input during the consultative phase under the Mining Act, it is up to the Ministry and its Minister to make the ultimate decisions which answers your second question about a veto.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that, “The Crown’s duty to consult imposes on it a positive obligation to reasonably ensure that aboriginal peoples are provided with all necessary information in a timely way so that they have an opportunity to express their interests and concerns, and to ensure that their representations are seriously considered and, wherever possible, demonstrably integrated into the proposed plan of action.”

Premier McGuinty’s words of “a new respect and working relationship with First Nations, a true partnership, a greater say to First Nations concerning development projects on their traditional lands, including a share of the benefits from resource projects, continue to resound loud and clear throughout Noopemig.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mining Act receives Royal Assent

Approximately six months after it was first introduced into the Ontario Legislature, Bill 173, An Act to amend the Mining Act, received Royal Assent on October 28, 2009. Upon introducing Bill 173 for third reading, Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle stated:

“Bill 173 is aimed at bringing our mining legislation into harmony with the values of today’s society while, at the same time, promoting strong, vibrant and competitive minerals industry.”

The Mining Act in Ontario first passed into law in 1873, to govern access to what is considered to be Crown Lands and to begin to develop the natural resources. In 1906, Ontario revised the Mining Act, changing the way access to natural resources occurred and established the free-entry model, which provided priority access to lands and resources for mining and development companies.

The free-entry system applied to all “Crown Lands”, a majority of which are First Nation traditional territories, where prospectors could stake claims to minerals on both public and private lands, without notifying or consulting with the landowners. This included Aboriginal peoples who have land rights as well as the right to be consulted and accommodated. The free-entry model, under the old Mining Act, created controversy as mining companies clashed with the interests of the First Peoples, landowners and the public, prompting the Ontario government under Premier McGuinty to reform the Mining Act.

Section 2 of Bill 173 outlines the purpose of the new Mining Act as “to encourage prospecting, staking and exploration for the development of mineral resources, in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the duty to consult and to minimize the impact of these activities on public health and safety and the environment.”

While it references the duty to consult, it does not contain the Supreme Court jurisprudence of accommodation or the free, prior, informed consent expected by the First Peoples. Instead, provisions under the application for an exploration permit state that the Director of Exploration shall consider, “whether Aboriginal consultation has occurred……..which may include consideration of any arrangements that have been made with Aboriginal communities that may be affected by the exploration.”

There are also provisions for withdrawing lands that “meet the prescribed criteria as a site of Aboriginal cultural significance.” This can be done under the authority of the Minister, who can order lands be withdrawn from prospecting, staking, sale and lease any lands, mining rights or surface rights that are the property of the Crown.

A withdrawal order “does not affect pre-existing mineral rights and tenure such as mining claims, mining leases or licenses of occupation.” (The claims in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug traditional territory remain. Platinex and Ontario have extended discussions on their on-going litigation to November 6, 2009.)

However, no mining claims may be staked or recorded on any land, “that is located in the Far North, if a community based land use plan has designated the lands for a use inconsistent with mineral exploration and development.”

Minister Gravelle stated that upon royal assent some provisions went into effect immediately, including, “a clause in all leases and lease renewals highlighting the protection of existing aboriginal and treaty rights provided in Section 35 of the Constitution Act” and “the automatic withdrawal of Crown mineral rights under privately held surface rights in southern Ontario.” (Before 1913, the Crown granted lands that included surface and mineral rights but afterwards lands granted may or may not have included mineral rights.)

For the rest of the Act, the Ministry will be developing the regulations and policies, in consultation with stakeholders, before they can come into effect. Minister Gravelle stated that his ministry will consult on the development of the regulations and policies dealing with Aboriginal consultation throughout the mining sequence, including the criteria and the process for withdrawing sites of aboriginal significance; exploration plans and permits, including terms, conditions and requirements for early exploration; clarifying the existing consultation process for closure plans for advanced exploration and mine development projects; and a dispute resolution process for Aboriginal-related mining issues.

As of August 11, 2009, there are 250 active mineral exploration projects in northwestern Ontario and approximately 8000 claims made by mining companies grandfathered under Section 14.3 where withdrawal orders do not affect pre-existing mining rights and tenure such as mining claims, mining leases or licenses of occupation.

Also, under Part XIV- Far North, it states: “The validity of any mining claims, mining leases, patents, and licenses of occupation for mining purposes located in the Far North and any related approvals for mineral exploration and development activity shall not be affected by a community based land use plan or any amendment to such a plan that is inconsistent with mining purposes, if the consistent designation was made after the mining claims, mining leases, patents, and licenses of occupation for mining purposes or the related approvals for mineral explorations and development activities were issued.”

In conclusion, it appears that mining will continue to be “strong, vibrant and competitive” throughout Noopemig while the regulations and policies are being developed for the Aboriginal-specific clauses of Bill 173-the “new” Mining Act. It will be up to the First Peoples to decide how and if, they want to provide input into the regulations. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Climate Day Speech

October 24, 2009 was the International Day of Climate Action and I was invited by the Lakehead University Student Union Sustainability Commissioner, Alex Boulet, to participate in a rally at Waverly Park in Thunder Bay. The rally was one of 5200 events held in 181 countries around the world where people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, where the world leaders will gather to finish negotiations and decide what the world will do when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The UNFCCC was started in 1990 by the United Nations. (UN) The convention sets out the overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to deal with climate change. It acknowledges that “the climate system is a global resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.”  The goals of the convention are “to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in such a way as to give ecosystems the opportunity to adapt naturally.”

As of March 2009, scientists say that we are at 387ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. The safe upper limit for humanity is 350ppm.

Canada has voted to delay Bill C-311, the environmental climate legislation, until after the meeting in Copenhagen.

I gave the following speech at Waverly Park in Thunder Bay on Saturday, October 24, 2009.

I’m  John Cutfeet and I work for the Wildlands League as the Bilingual Mining Coordinator, acting as a resource for the far north communities dealing with mining and exploration issues. I work out of the far north office of the Wildlands League at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) which is my home community. I provide communities with the best available information so they can make the best informed decisions. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug is located six hundred kilometers in the boreal forest, north of Thunder Bay.

KI has faced challenges from plans for unbridled development, which saw community leadership incarcerated for preventing an exploration company, who claimed that they needed to drill in an environmentally sensitive area so they can mine platinum-group metals. They wanted to develop new fuel cell technology for catalytic convertors to lower emissions from vehicles. It was to be done at the expense of the communities who rely on the lakes, rivers and the ecosystem that allows life to flourish and maintains the well-being of nature and humanity

The Elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug say that Big Trout Lake, where we are located, has springs and streams flowing in and out, connecting with other systems along the way, each with its own unique features within the ecosystem.

When we were talking about protecting entire water basins, including rivers, one of the elders pointed out that we had to protect the marshes which she described as the lungs of  the earth.  If we didn’t, we would be allowing the air that we breathe to be destroyed. This elder, had a limited english vocabulary and very little formal education. Yet, she understood how the ecosystem interacted to sustain life on earth that provides life to everything in it.

Sustainability is a term that is applied to almost every facet of life including over various time periods and it can be on a local and global scale. Sustainability is often referred to by the environmental, social, economic dimensions known as the “three pillars.”

Science tells us that we, as human beings are living beyond “the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems,” and that we are living unsustainably. Human sustainability implies the integration of economic, social and environmental spheres to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

It is understood that societies and economies rely on the natural world. One environmentalist put it this way, “The economy is, in the first instance, a sub-system of human society, which is itself, in the second instance, a subsystem of the totality of life on earth.” He continues, “And no subsystem can expand beyond the capacity of the total system of which it is part.”

Are we beyond the point of the supporting capacity of our ecosystems?

In April of 2009, I attended the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change in Anchorage, Alaska. It was attended by about 400 Indigenous Peoples from 80 different countries. Indigenous Peoples came from the Arctic, North America, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Caribbean and Russia.  We worked towards obtaining a unanimous Indigenous Peoples Declaration on Climate Change to be taken to the World Leaders Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen this December.

Unfortunately, we could not come to a unanimous declaration to be carried to Copenhagen. We came up with these two options:

a) We call for the phase out of fossil fuel development and a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments on or near Indigenous lands.
b) We call for a process that works towards the eventual phase out of fossil fuels, without infringing on the right to development of Indigenous Nations.

H.E. Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, President of the United Nations General Assembly to Indigenous Peoples stated that, “Indigenous Peoples are amongst those who contributed least to the climate change crisis because of their traditional livelihoods and sustainable lifestyles. It is a bitter irony, however, that they are suffering the worst impacts of climate change.” He continued, “The Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic witnessed the unprecedented thawing of permafrost and the melting of glaciers 30 years ago, even before the world was aware of climate change.”

Ironically, it was the Arctic who held out on the moratorium language as they had been fighting for 30 years to get involved in oil and gas exploration in their territory. They were finally getting that opportunity to reap the benefits from their lands as others had been doing before their very eyes.

Indigenous Peoples throughout the world have watched resources being extracted from their territories creating great wealth to others while we live on islands of poverty and development happening all around us in an unsustainable manner.

President Miguel Brockman expressed it more eloquently:

“Now is not the time to pull any punches, we must call a spade a spade. The Third World cannot afford to subsidize the First World anymore through unjust debt repayments – where developed countries portray themselves as charitable donors coming to the financial rescue and relief of the ‘pitiable beggars’ which is how they portray developing countries.”

The Earth Charter goes beyond defining sustainability and seeks to establish the values and direction in this manner: “We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect of nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.

KI calls it ‘the right to exist’ in a safe and secure environment and to benefit from the land and resources like everyone else in the world. This needs to happen. Not only does it need to happen, but it must happen in an environmentally and sustainable manner. Not because it is the right thing to do but because justice demands it!


In my entry on the First Peoples of Asubpeeschoseewagong, (Grassy Narrows) I reported that Roberta Keesic was charged with building 2 cabins for shelter in her traditional territory without a permit and refusing a stop-work order and that her case was coming up on October 20, 2009. Her charges were dropped on October 16th, 4 days before she was to go to court.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Waterway Parks in Dunakiiwin (Our Homelands)

Dunakiiwin is a term used to describe the homelands which lie in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, (Treaty # 9) – an area covering two-thirds of the far north of Ontario.

It is estimated that about 74% of the surface of the earth is water according to David Suzuki in his book, “You are the Earth”; including oceans, lakes, rivers, and polar ice-caps. He says that we are made up of 70% water because our cells as such, are mainly composed of water. He writes, “You are actually a big blob of water, with just enough solid material to keep you from dribbling away onto the floor.”

In mid-September, 2009, a meeting took place at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) with representation from communities located along the Fawn Rivers 1& 2 and both the Severn and Pipestone rivers. These rivers have been designated as “Waterway Class Parks.” These waterway parks have a combined total of 192, 469 hectares or approximately 1,925 square kilometers which is 6.4 times the size of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

Frank Beardy, NAN Chief Negotiator for Oshki-Machiitawin (formerly Northern Table) explained the purpose of the meeting: “Our main objective is how can we ensure that the  First Nations have control of our watersheds?” He continued, “If any development happens in Muskrat Dam, everybody down the river will be affected. It will not make a difference if we only protect part of the river. Can we protect the whole water basin?”

In June 2006, the Ontario Legislature passed the new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, which came into effect, along with the new regulations, on September 4, 2007. Under the legislation, Waterway Class Parks are one of the classifications.

The objective of these parks is to protect recreational water routes and significant terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including associated natural and cultural features. They have also been designated to provide high quality recreational and educational experiences.

The First Peoples living in Noopemig, have always used the lakes, streams, rivers for travel routes; a place to hunt, fish, and trap for food. More importantly, access to drinking water while pursuing traditional activities is considered to be guaranteed under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution 1982. Living off the land has always been understood that the environment is protected and water, as the source of life, is maintained. Living with Noopemig means ensuring that the landscapes with its natural features are maintained and kept healthy.

Former Premier of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Kakfwi spoke of how his elders pointed out that they would have to also protect the “mountains, valleys, trees and the landscape” if they wanted to protect the waterways.

The elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug say that Big Trout Lake has rivers and streams flowing in and out, connecting with other systems along the way; each with their own unique features. Establishing waterway parks on the west and east side of the lake brings with it different management systems to huge chunks of a whole ecosystem that could potentially disrupt an otherwise healthy landscape.

The communities of Wapekeka, Bearskin Lake, Wunnumin, Kingfisher, North Caribou, and Cat Lake, have been asking for the de-designation of these classifications since July 5, 2007 claiming the parks “were established without meaningful consultation” and “without seeking the consent by First Nations whose traditional homelands were affected.”

In July 2008, Premier  McGuinty announced the  protection of 225,000 square kilometers to be off-limits to development but traditional aboriginal uses like hunting and fishing would be allowed, along with tourism. “It is imperative that the province strike the right balance between conservation and development. We need to plan for development and we will only get one chance to get this right.”

The new planning process for the far north would “enshrine a new respect and working relationship with First Nations” and create “a true partnership.” Mr. McGuinty had committed to giving a greater say to First Nations concerning development projects on their traditional lands including a share of the benefits from these resource projects.

Bill 191, the Far North Act, was introduced on June 2, 2009 as “An Act with respect to land use planning and protection in the far north. The proposed planning process identified “a significant role for First Nations,” and dedicated “225,000 square kilometers of the far north as an interconnected network of protected areas.”

While the province, through the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)is not willing to de-designate the parks, it is willing to review the parks on a case by case basis and claims that boundaries could change through the land use planning process. In addition, there is a commitment for the co-management of parks, also on a case by case basis.

For their part, the represented communities, including Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, resolved that; “We do not recognize the imposition of waterway parks or any of their associated rules and regulations in our traditional territory. We will assert our jurisdiction over our traditional territories and use the waterways as we have since time immemorial.”

The communities resolved to “establish a permanent committee to address waterway park issues and to develop protocols to protect waterways based on indigenous knowledge.” Each First Nation will contribute its share of the funding to the overall project and will submit a proposal to the ENGOs and to both levels of governments for additional funding.

The First Peoples have only recently become aware of the establishment of these waterway parks in their territory although planning has been ongoing for decades. Setting up those waterway parks without First Nation involvement and the lack of meaningful action to address this grievance is hindering the development of a “new respect and a working relationship.” Using indigenous knowledge, they plan to exercise jurisdiction to control and protect entire water basins and not just rivers.

The mighty waters of the Fawn River 1 & 2, the Pipestone, and the Severn, continue to echo through Noopemig in Dunakiiwin for as long as the rivers flow……

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows)

As the site of the longest-running blockade to stop clearcut logging, Asubpeeschoseewagong. or Grassy Narrows, located eighty + kilometers, northeast of Kenora  off the Trans-Canada Highway, has seen more than its share of struggles throughout its ancestral traditional territory.  The Anishnabek of Asubpeeschoseewagong were relocated by a government decision in 1963 to the present location “to allow better access to the nearest town and to benefit from what it has to offer.”

This entry looks at the First Peoples of Asubpeeschoseewagong, (Grassy Narrows) who have been displaced; their graveyard and sacred sites flooded, and their water and food supply contaminated by large-scale developments. Asubpeeschoseewagong, located in Treaty # 3, near the town of Kenora is road-accessible via highway 671, a short drive northeast on a former logging road which has only been paved since 2002. With a population of approximately 1000 and a 14 square mile reserve, the members of Asubpeeschoseewagong consider the surrounding 2,500 square miles as their traditional territory.

In 2007, Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister, and community leaders declared a moratorium on all industrial activity within their traditional territory without community consent, citing, “We’ve been seeking for many years a constructive solution to this untenable situation, but the response has been to talk and log. We cannot sit back and watch the demise of our way of life which disappears every time more cutting areas are extended.”

“The clear-cutting of the land, and the destruction of the forest is an attack on our people,” says Roberta Keesic, a grandmother and trapper. “The land is the basis of who we are. Our culture is a land-based culture and the destruction of the land is the destruction of our culture.”

In the mid-70’s, the way of life of Asubpeeshoseewagong was heavily impacted by mercury being released into the English-Wabigoon river system by a pulp and paper mill in Dryden from 1960- 1979. As a result, the Ontario government told the community to “stop eating fish,” – and closed down their commercial fishery. The release of mercury, upstream from Grassy Narrows resulted in the loss of the main source of food and employment for the community and greatly impacted their health and way of life and still continues to this day.
Living close to all the development and being close to an urban center has not brought all the benefits that one might expect.

A trapper reported that his trapping cabin had burned down. The logs that he had cut down for the replacement of the cabin which he hauled to the main road were cut up for firewood by a person or persons unknown. In March 2007, Roberta Keesic was charged with building 2 cabins for shelter in her traditional territory without a permit , and refusing a stop-work order. Her case comes up on October 20, 2009.

Recently, youth leader Chrissy Swain and community organizer Judy Dasilva visited the former site of the Macintosh Residential School near Kenora and found several large hydro towers at the grave site of the children who died at the school, disrespecting their memory. Ms. Swain, who has started walking with other youth from Grassy Narrows to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, had this to say:
“We need Canada to recognize the damage those schools have done to our communities and cultures, and we need an end to the destruction of our lands, and an end to native people being criminalized when they stand up for their rights to protect their lands, their cultures, and their communities.”

Judy Dasilva pointed out that there are now mining claims that run into a spring-fed lake, a few kilometers from the community that will potentially impact their water and food supply…..once again.
Their voices continue to echo through Noopemig…..

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Noopemig (It means ‘The Forest’ in OjiCree)

From  Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug...

I’m John Cutfeet and I work for Wildlands League as a Bilingual Mining Coordinator, acting as a resource for Far North communities dealing with mining issues. I work out of the Far North office of the Wildlands League at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug which is my home community.

This blog will look at First Peoples living in Noopemig (pronounced Noo-peh-mig) of the Far North. It will often include their voices. My work isn’t about supporting or opposing individual mining projects. I am a resource for communities so that they may make the best decisions about their futures given the best available information.  It is only fitting that this inaugural entry looks at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. Just this past week, they were dealing with the same situation of an exploration company trying to access their territory against the wishes of this community.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwg is located six hundred kilometers, north of Thunder Bay. Ontario. The disputed zone is located approximately forty kilometers, south, twenty-two of those km across the lake of Big Trout Lake, and another eighteen km Noopemig to Nemeigusabins Lake. (Little Trout Lake) The Nemeigusabins River runs eighteen kms north and empties into the main lake.

The company, Platinex, holds mining claims and leases located on and near Nemeigusabins, running into the main lake which would require the removal of huge amounts of rock and overburden, to access the minerals. This possibility makes it environmentally hazardous for Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who still utilize the territory to exercise their traditional pursuits of hunting, fishing, trapping, guaranteed in Section Thirty-Five of the Canadian Constitution, 1982.

Kitchehmaykoosib Inninuwug faced off with Platinex in February 16, 2006 for ten days at Nemeigusabins until the drilling crew left the site. Platinex  sued for $10 Billion, which eventually saw members of the leadership, (KI-6)including Chief Donny Morris and Deputy Chief Jack Mckay sentenced to six months in jail for contempt for not allowing Platinex immediate access into the territory as ordered by Justice Patrick Smith of the Superior Court of Ontario.

Now more than three and half years later, the community is back to a situation where the company attempted to access the property once again without the approval of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. The community did not allow the plane to land on Nemeigusabins Lake on August 26, 2009 while they were exercising their Aboriginal and Treaty Rights to be out on the land..  As a result of this action, there are charges pending…

In a press release dated August 26, 2009, Chief Morris states:

“I am very deeply concerned about what is happening at Nemeguisabins Lake. I am deeply disappointed that the province has not intervened in this critical matter. We have made submissions to the province. The Premier never responded to our letter where I asked him for a meeting.” He continues, “I think this is the opposite to what he said when he talked about the proposed Far North Act. I was at Nemeigusabins Lake because I was concerned about the safety of my people and I am concerned about protecting the land. I am glad that our presence on the lake has reconfirmed our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and was peaceful.”

In July, 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeal called the Mining Act ‘archaic’ and released the KI-6 reducing their sentence to time served. It saw the duty to consult this way:

“Having regard to the clear line of Supreme Court jurisprudence from Sparrow to Mikisew, where constitutionally protected aboriginal rights might be asserted, injunctions sought by private parties to protect their interests should only be granted where every effort has been made by the court to encourage consultation, negotiation, accommodation and reconciliation among the competing rights and interests.”

So far Ontario has not withdrawn the authorizations for mining in this area. Instead it has filed a motion to bring the parties back into the court process once again.

The last time Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug were in court, the struggle for the protecting of constitutionally entrenched rights was relegated to a mere civil contempt case for which the KI-6 were incarcerated…The voices continue to ring loud and clear from Noopemig in KI’s traditional territory, could this time be different?  

Stay tuned for further dispatches from the Far North as I speak to many communities about mining and traditional lands.