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.