Grand Chief Michael Coon Come said he was shocked by the wall of opposition from Ontario First Nations to the Grand Council of the Crees’ lawsuit to claim Aboriginal rights and title over a section of land on the Ontario side of the border.
The piece of land in question stretches from the southern coast of James Bay all the way to Lake Abitibi east of Timmins. Moose Cree First Nation is saying that is their traditional territory and an all rights and title to it belong to them exclusively.
Coon Come said that the Cree communities on the east coast of James Bay in Quebec are willing to come up with an arrangement where the rights and title to the land can be shared. But that didn’t stop the Moose Cree, the Mushkegowuk Council and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation all to denounce the lawsuit and demand that it be withdrawn.
“I’m actually very surprised. They should be standing with us. Who created this politics of division,” asked the Grand Chief. “When Canada was created, no one consulted the Aboriginal peoples, including the Cree, when they created these provinces and split the boundaries of First Nations.”
The central argument the Cree council plans to make in Ontario Superior Court is that the ancestors of the people living in their communities have been using that territory for centuries, and the Quebec/Ontario board just happened to intersect that territory and the treaties and other laws that came after infringed on their right to it.
“We have traditionally hunted, fished and occupied the area that we are claiming. We had trappers who were harassed in the 1960s and 1970s for pursuing their right to trap,” said Coon Come. “Before we even filed any claim, of course, we hired anthropologists like Colin Scott (of McGill University) to do research to establish that we occupied that territory and that we never surrendered our rights.”
Although the Cree Council filed their lawsuit in Ontario at the beginning of March, the claim to the land in Ontario is not new. It was originally launched in federal courts in 1989, and it wasn’t until last year that they found out that would need to take it to a provincial court.
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