Chiefs stand together to demand development on their own terms – by Ian Graham (Thompson Citizen – May 3, 2013)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000.  

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Representatives of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) held a press conference outside the provincial governments Mines Branch and Mineral Resources Division office in Winnipeg on April 26 to announce that Manitoba First Nations are declaring moratoriums on resource development in their traditional territories and that stop work orders on mine development are being posted and will be enforced.

“We’re no longer going to be sitting back watching corporations and governments come into our traditional territories and ancestral lands and exploit our resources, leaving us nothing at the end of the day,” said AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. “We’re not going to accept that. The status quo is done. For far too many generations now, provincial governments, federal governments have worked in collusion with the corporate industries to come into our territories and to take the vast wealth of our ancestral lands. Meanwhile they come back to us with contribution agreements that are wholly inadequate to provide for the basic needs of our communities and our citizens. Those days are over, those days are done and what’s happening here I think is an emergence of a new unified position. Once again our people are leading the way.”

Several northern chiefs made statements at the event, including Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN), against whom a court injunction was recently granted to mining company Hudbay to prevent him from blockading the company’s mining and exploration projects in the snow Lake are, as well as Chief Jack Dysart of the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, Chief Micheal Yellowback of the Manto Sipi Cree Nation and the chiefs of Wasagamack First Nation, Red Sucker Lake First Nation and Garden Hill First Nation in the Island Lake region. Idle No More spokesperson and Ryerson University professor Pam Palmater, also the subject of a court injunction issued to Hudbay, also spoke at the event.

“What is the price of these mining licences that are being illegally operated or being illegally awarded to companies?” said Dumas. “Well, the person that pays the most is the environment, the degradation of the environment. It’s also our treaty and aboriginal rights that also pay the ultimate cost for this.”

Dysart said people at the grassroots level had high expectations of their leaders and that it was up to the leaders to ensure that they are aggressive in seeking resource revenue.

“It is time to respect and accommodate in a meaningful [way] on duty to consult as defined by each sovereign nation,” said Dysart, pointing out that many of the people the chiefs represent are not sharing in Canada’s prosperity. “They have so little. It is time to chart out or own economic success.”

Yellowback said that the province of Manitoba has failed to work with First Nations in a meaningful way when it comes to resource industries.

“They have gone beyond the legislative authority to issue permits to these mineral exploration companies and they’re not addressing with us in good faith and it’s kind of disappointing with our MLA Eric Robinson that he’s not doing enough to represent us in the legislative assembly,” said Yellowback. “We have tried to work in partnership with this province but only time and time again they have failed to do so.”

Island Lake chiefs said it was of utmost importance to preserve the unspoiled nature that defines their part of the province while also bringing their communities’ standard of living up to what it taken for granted in other regions.

“Island Lake is a population of some 12,000 people,” said Wasagamack Chief Alex McDougall. “In any area of Manitoba of that population we see support infrastructure, we see hospitals. We don’t have a hospital in Island Lake of 12,000 people. I don’t have an airport for my community in Wasagamack. So we’re merely asking that we get involved in the discussions and planning of our traditional are so that we can benefit from those resources ourselves.”

Chief Buddy Beardy of Garden Hill First Nation said his community had rebuffed advances from mining companies in the past.

“Vale came to our community once, our people said no,” said Beardy. “The important thing for our people is to protect the land, the rivers, and lakes. That’s of foremost importance other than protecting their cultural activities.”

Red Sucker Lake First Nation Chief Les Harper said past activities by mineral exploration companies in the region did not improve life for his people.

“We never benefit from it,” Harper said. “Our hunting and trapping are affected. Manitoba goes through the motions of consulting with us and permits are issued without determining or identifying impacts on our territory.”

Palmater, the final speaker at the event, said all Canadians would benefit when First Nations people were prosperous and that the government must abide by the law.

“When they ignore and violate our aboriginal and treaty rights, they’re violating their own constitution and it’s time that we restored the rule of law here in Manitoba,” Palmater said.

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