First Nations threaten to limit access to traditional lands – by Rick Garrick (Wawatay News – January 10, 2013)

Northern Ontario’s First Nations Voice:

Shibogama’s Margaret Kenequanash is warning the erosion of treaty rights will result in “very difficult” access to First Nations territory.

“Prime Minister Harper and his government can make all the legislation and impose funding cuts that will have devastating impacts and will erode our treaty rights,” said the executive director of Shibogama First Nations Council during the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Treaty Unity press conference, held on Dec. 21 in Thunder Bay. “This will not be recognized in our territory and will meet strong opposition without our free, prior and informed consent. And it will be very difficult to access our territory. All the prime minister is doing is removing his Majesty and his subjects’ access to our territory.”

Keneqauanash said the federal government’s move to vacate the treaty relationship leaves First Nations with no option but to use the resources within their territory to develop the future for their people without the involvement of government. “We are resilient people — we are survivors,” Kenequanash said. “We’ve been surviving for hundreds and hundreds of years. We will remain a strong nation.”

Kenequanash said the Shibogama chiefs support Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on her hunger strike and demand a response from the prime minister on treaty issues.

“Bill C-45 (Jobs and Growth Act) is only one of many different pieces of legislation and policies that First Nations and tribal councils are contending with from the federal and provincial governments,” Kenequanash said. “It is time for the Crown, represented by the Governor-General of Canada, to intervene on behalf of Chief Theresa Spence and our First Nations, to bring Canada and Ontario to the treaty table.”

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said Spence is not alone on her quest to bring the treaty partners to the treaty table.

“The Chiefs of Nishnawbe Aski Nation and indigenous people across this country support her efforts to bring our treaty partners to the table,” Yesno said. “It is time to open the books on resource development in our treaty territory and to protect the Aboriginal and treaty rights of our people.”

NAN holds the position that the treaty partners, Canada and Ontario, must not be the sole beneficiaries of the resources and revenue from the lands and resources in the James Bay Treaty #9 and Ontario portions of Treaty #5; a land mass covering two-thirds of Ontario.
“Treaty issues are fundamental to the people of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the treaties set the basis for our First Nations relationship to Canada and Ontario,” said Constance Lake Councillor Darius Ferris. “There is no expiration date on the treaties, and the dialogue with our treaty partners must continue.”

Moose Cree Chief Norman Hardisty Jr. said the federal government’s move to pass Bill C-45 into law without consultation with First Nations showed a “blatant disregard” to its constitutional and legal obligations to Moose Cree and all First Nations across the country.
“The federal government is introducing new measures and altering existing legislation in ways that will impact and infringe upon First Nations Aboriginal and treaty rights and are ignoring their duty to consult with First Nations,” Hardisty said. “This duty is not optional; it is an obligation that has been recognized and affirmed by numerous Supreme Court of Canada decisions.”

Hardisty said the prime minister stated during the Crown-First Nations Gathering, held in January 2012, that the federal government would work in partnership with provinces and First Nations if changes were proposed to the Indian Act, but has done the opposite.

“The Moose Cree First Nation will not tolerate the imposition of federal legislation within our homeland when consultation has not taken place and our consent has not been given,” said Moose Cree Deputy Chief Earl Cheechoo. “We understand our rights and will assert them. If the federal government believes they can willfully trample our rights with no consequence, they are wrong.”

Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath said the federal and provincial governments have been big on words but short on actions.

“Both levels of government need to move forward with meaningful negotiations to ensure that resource revenues are shared with First Nations communities,” Horwath said. “It only makes sense that First Nations share in the profits made through mining and resource extraction in their territory. This discussion is particularly important now as the province continues to explore the unparalleled wealth potential of the Ring of Fire.”