An alliance has been formed between four northern First Nations to create a united front on land protection issues.
Leadership from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI, or Big Trout Lake First Nation), Wapekeka, Neskantaga, and Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) met on Monday in Grassy Narrows to sign a Mutual Cooperation Agreement. The four First Nations are “forming an alliance to protect their lands and waters in the face of mounting concerns about encroachment on their territories by mining exploration companies who have been enabled by the Ford Government’s pro-industry stance,” according to a statement issued by the alliance. The First Nations are calling on Premier Ford to meet with them immediately and to end the “free entry” system. This is the latest escalation in a growing conflict between First Nations and the Ford Government over mining exploration occurring against the will of local First Nations, the statement . The combined homelands of the four first nations cover an area of roughly 60,000 square kilometers – nearly 100 times the City of Toronto.
Prospectors have staked thousands of new claims on these First Nations’ territories since Ford came to power, the alliance alleged.
“They are exploiting Ontario’s antiquated “free entry” mining system that allows companies and individuals to stake mining claims on First Nations lands from the comfort of their offices, without gaining the consent of the Indigenous people who live there. Prospectors are not required by Ontario to give any notice to First Nations until after the claims have been registered and are in force. Conversely, Ontario does not inform prospectors which First Nation’s land they are staking until after the claims are purchased. The claims grant the prospector a wide range of rights under Crown law to explore the area for valuable minerals and to own the treasures that are found under the ground.
However, the areas that these prospectors are staking have been home to Indigenous people for countless generations and continue to provide the sources of life, culture, and livelihood for them, the statement said.. “In spite of the well-known concerns of these First Nations, and many attempts to bring the Ford government to the table, the free entry system remains in place and new claims continue to be registered in social conflict zones against the will of First Nations.”
Meeting openly today in Grassy Narrows’ Sakatcheway Anishinabe School, the three Chiefs, one Deputy Chief, and many dozens of grassroots community members shared their concerns about mining, their love of the land, and pledged to support each other in defending their land and water from incursions by outside authorities who do not respect their decisions over their lands. The four First Nations were joined by Sol Mamakwa, NDP MPP for Keewatinoong and Official Opposition Critic for Indigenous Affairs.
KI and Wapekeka have decided to protect the entire intact 13,000 sq km Fawn River watershed that contains and sustains their communities. They are strong landusers whose travel routes, fishing nets, and hunt camps continue to form a dense network throughout their expansive territories. From 2005-2012 KI people defended their land from mining companies Platinex and Gods Lake Resources. In response, Ontario took the KI leadership to court and Six KI leaders were sentenced to six months in jail in 2008. The KI Six, including Chief Donny Morris and then Councilor and grandmother Cecilia Begg, served two months behind bars before their sentence was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeals. Eventually, facing KI’s unwavering commitment and repeated litigation from frustrated mining companies, Ontario withdrew 23,000 sq km of KI Homeland from mining exploration in 2012. But large parts of KI’s Homeland remain open to “free entry” staking, including parts of the Fawn River headwaters.
“KI has many grievances against the Ontario Ministry of Natural resources due to their harsh and unjust treatment of KI people and lands from before and after the time of the Treaty. These grievances are still outstanding and hurtful to KI people,” the statement said.
KI Chief Donny Morris is calling on the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to come to KI to meet, apologize, and resolve these grievances.
Ring of Fire
Located near the “Ring of Fire” mineral deposit, Neskantaga has long been a principled voice advocating respect for Indigenous jurisdiction and for protecting the land and water, especially the Attawapiskat River that flows through Neskantaga’s homelands, and its watershed. This past summer, Neskantaga launched Namekaa Gaagige a youth-focussed protection and stewardship program for the lake sturgeon, their relative and crucial source of cultural and spiritual sustenance.
During the provincial elections in 2018, Ford stated that he would drive the bulldozer himself in order to force a road into the remote Ring of Fire, the alliance noted.
“Plans for developing the Ring of Fire, including the building of an all-season road and rail line, continue to be pushed forward without Neskantaga’s free, prior, and informed consent, and without a comprehensive assessment of the impacts that multiple industrial projects in the sensitive mushkego boreal forest – the world’s second largest intact wetland – will have on the water, fish, wildlife, and plants that Neskantaga people cherish and care for.”
Grassy Narrows First Nation has been fighting to control and protect its homeland since a paper mill upstream dumped 9 tonnes of mercury into the life-giving English-Wabigoon Rivers in the 1960s, said the statement. “Instead of respecting Grassy Narrows, Ontario authorized increasingly large and mechanized clearcuts throughout the Territory.
“In 2002, grassroots Grassy Narrows people initiated what is now the longest running Indigenous blockade in Canadian history. They succeeded in removing the world’s largest newsprint company and in preventing all logging since 2008, sparing over 15 million trees from being clearcut,” the statement said. It added that since 2018 the number of mining claims on Grassy Narrows land has “exploded, roughly quadroupling to around 4,000 mining claims.”
Grassy Narrows has called on Ontario to respect Grassy Narrows’ 7,000 sq km Indigenous Protected Area and to withdraw the area from mining and logging activity. “But the Ford government continues to allow “free entry” staking throughout the area and is proposing to open up part of it to renewed clearcut logging against Grassy Narrows’ will,” the alliance stated.