Confusion and concern over land-use planning across northern Ontario – by Dayna Nadine Scott (The Conversation – March 11, 2018)

Dayna Nadine Scott is an Associate Professor of Law and Environmental Studies, specializing in environmental law and justice., York University, Canada.

Peawanuck is a Cree community in northern Ontario near the shores of Hudson Bay and the home community of the Weenusk First Nation. When I visited in February, caribou hides and animal furs hung in the yards, teepee smokehouses smouldered outside homes and snowmobiles pulled boxed sleighs to carry food harvested from the land.

Like many Indigenous communities across northern Ontario, Peawanuck is confronting the realities of a changing climate, increasing pressure from mining companies that want to extract minerals from their lands and new land-use planning regimes flowing from the province.

At the same time, Indigenous communities across the country are increasingly claiming their rights to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) grounded in international law, in respect of decisions affecting their homelands. And both Canada and Ontario say they are ready to establish a “new relationship” with Indigenous peoples.

As part of a team of community-based researchers that includes Donna Ashamock (MoCreebec) and John Cutfeet (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug), I flew to Peawanuck to learn about how land-use decisions are being made on the ground in the face of these pressures.

We spoke with community leaders, Band staff, youth and elders. The message from all of these encounters is that the people of Peawanuck are effective stewards and fierce defenders of their lands.

This community — like others — is having to make crucial decisions that will affect its ability to fulfill its roles as steward and defender in the future.

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