“The government has a responsibility to protect First Nations people, and it’s their
duty to consult. That duty should not be given to the industries themselves, unless
it’s agreed upon through talks between First Nations people and government officials.”
(Raymond Ferris – Ring of Fire co-ordinator for Matawa First Nation)
As First Nation chiefs from 49 Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) communities gather this week for the 2011 Winter Chiefs Assembly, the theme of the conference — Our Land, Our Resources — reflects current frustrations in First Nations communities.
“The discussions are centred around resource development, as it applies to both the written and spirited intent of Treaty 9,” said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy. “A hundred years ago, we signed a treaty that gave us peaceful and shared land, and said we would share in any wealth generated from that land.”
The conference, which began on Tuesday and concludes Thursday, features various presentations. Beardy said one of the highlights was the discussion around proposed mining developments in the Far North.
“The focus is around the implementation of these various treaty rights. We’d like the government to be more respectful of those rights.”
Tuesday saw a visit from Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Chris Bentley.
The Grand Chief said although the provincial ministers were there to “say hello,” participants felt it necessary to question the politicians on pertinent issues. We made it clear that we are not against development.
“The government in some cases likes to take shortcuts, but this leads to potential infringement on our Treaty rights.
“There has to be accommodation. At the end of the day, we have to make certain that the government is aware of their legal requirements.”
He said the government’s implementation of the Indian Act has infringed on their Aboriginal rights.
“The Indian Act is a document that defines who we are, what we can do, and what we can’t do. An important thing to remember is we never gave up the right to govern ourselves.”
He said because Treaty 9 was developed so long ago, today, it’s based in large part on oral history.
“That oral history is still relevant today,” said Beardy.
At the centre of much of the resource debate is the development of the Ring of Fire deposit in the Far North.
Raymond Ferris is the Ring of Fire co-ordinator for Matawa First Nation, and said the responsibility for initial consultation lies with the federal and provincial governments, and not with the industries themselves.
“The government has a responsibility to protect First Nations people, and it’s their duty to consult. That duty should not be given to the industries themselves, unless it’s agreed upon through talks between First Nations people and government officials.”
He said with project descriptions being developed for various Ring of Fire plans, these discussions need to take place sooner than later.
“Before permits are issued, it’s the government’s responsibility to consult. We have too much to lose not to be able to actively participate. We’ve learned lessons from other areas who have lost their culture, their language and their environments.”
Talks with government would ensure First Nations people have access to jobs and financial benefits coming from the Ring of Fire project.
“This is a very serious issue for our people.”
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