Land claim makes few waves so far

They came, they saw the new maps, they asked questions.
More than 100 people attended open houses on the Rainy River First Nations land claim that were held across the district last week.
“It’s moving. Information that came in prior [to the open house sessions] helped,” said Rainy River First Nations Chief Gary Medicine.
“When people came in, they have legitimate concerns, whether it’s about bear management, private land, or resorts.”
Members of the public may become involved in the process if and when their land-based interests become affected by an aboriginal land claim.
Affected parties might include municipalities and agencies responsible for highways and hydroelectric corridors, private property owners, and users of Crown land.
They may be affected because they are holders of leases, licences, or permits to use Crown land for commercial or non-commercial purposes, or because they use Crown land under claim for recreation.
Chief Medicine said the band respected the interests of private land owners and other land users in the area, and added the claim will bring lasting benefits to all district residents.
Rainy River First Nations also wants to expand its economic and business development through the claim, which he said would represent a significant investment in a brighter and more prosperous future for all band members and for the economy of Rainy River District as a whole.
“We’re going to have spin-offs, and business ideas are forthcoming,” Chief Medicine said, stressing the need for proper training and proper research.
It’s been 20 years since the land claim was first filed, and negotiators said they are glad to be entering the final stages. They’ve dealt with surrounding municipalities and contacted district residents who could be affected by the claim.
“It’s been a good run. . . . We’ve avoided all private interest,” noted band lawyer Rod McLeod. “We want to get good land but be good neighbours at the same time.”
Chris Maher, deputy director of negotiations for the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat (ONAS), also was optimistic about how the land claim was progressing.
He’s a veteran of several claims and said the interest level with this one isn’t as high as others he’s worked on, though “there’s generally not as much interest with surrendered claims.”
“We heard a lot about what we needed here. We’ve talked to people who are directly affected—tourist outfitters and trappers,” Maher said, echoing Chief Medicine’s belief that district residents have been well informed about the claim throughout the years.
“This is the first time there has been lines on the map. We had some interesting feedback on things we weren’t aware of,” he added.
For instance, people talked about historical importance of lands and others have hunted on the land for decades.
The proposed Crown land selections include the Hay Bay-Splitrock Bay area on Lake of the Woods (a traditional wild rice area), mainland area and islands in Sphene Lake, a Crown land block near the existing reserve, four islands in Rainy River (Watrous Island in front of Manitou Rapids Reserve and three in the area of Long Sault Rapids), and mainland and several islands on Pipestone Lake in the area of Gates Ajar Narrows.
The open houses enabled the public to view and comment on the proposed land selections before final confirmation by Ontario and the First Nations, which could be as soon as next spring.