Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resourses (MNR) – it’s time to talk – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial – (August 6, 2009)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario. This editorial was originally published on August 6, 2009.

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IT’S time that Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield sat down with Nishnawbe Aski Nation leaders and come to some sort of an agreement on the Far North Act. NAN’s Grand Chief Stan Beardy has blasted the provincial government over a perceived lack of consultation regarding Bill 191, which will set aside 225,000 square kilometres as a protected area within NAN First Nation homelands.

“Without (NAN’s) consultation, accommodation or consent,” Beardy stated, the legislation will effectively lock down the land to prevent First Nations – among the poorest people in Canada – from achieving economic independence by preventing the development needed to build healthy communities and help strengthen the Ontario economy.

While the government has launched committee meetings on the legislation, NAN says there are no hearings set for communities in the far North portion of the province, the ones most affected by the legislation.

The closest the Standing Committee on General Government gets to the far North is at the Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay hearings.

On Tuesday, a group of NAN First Nation youth boarded a train in Armstrong, bound for Toronto, to voice their opposition to the Far North Act.

“It is heartening to see our young people take a stance against the Far North Act, which will dictate the land use planning process in the Far North, the homelands of NAN First Nations,” Beardy said, adding that “the next generation of First Nations leaders are making their voices heard as this legislation could have a tremendous negative impact on future generations of the Nishnawbe Aski people.”

With that in mind, we also believe the government should schedule at least two hearings in NAN communities and allow input into this important legislation by community residents there.

Both sides have to reach an amicable solution. We are talking about the future of this vast tract of untapped Northern Ontario.

There’s still time for what NAN has called “a respectful government-to-government dialogue” to address land use planning in NAN territory.

Local input and planning is important for the success of any land-use planning exercise, whether it be on the streets of southern Ontario cities or forest land north of the 51st.

Residents of Northern Ontario First Nations and neighbouring municipalities must be heard before this Act becomes law.

Changes can be made to accommodate everyone’s concerns.

While not everyone gets their own way in negotiations, that is the beauty of compromise.

But first the parties must meet face-to-face so that dialogue begins and we can take the next step towards planning for the North’s future.