Chief proposes radical partnership during watershed conference

The ManOMin Watershed Conference 2005, which took place last week in Fort Frances, can be touted as a success if the recommendation of one of its speakers is adopted.
Albert Hunter is chief of Rainy River First Nations, which co-sponsored the conference along with Rainy River Community College in International Falls.
And when Chief Hunter took the podium last Thursday afternoon upstairs at La Place Rendez-Vous, he was speaking about something near and dear to his heart—and those of his people.
Since the concept of the conference was, “What will Rainy River look like in 20 years?” Chief Hunter told the audience how important that it be at least as good as it is now.
“Rainy River defines us as a people—people of the river,” he stressed.
Chief Hunter said his people call it the “Spirit River,” and its place in their history goes back to well before Treaty #3 was signed in 1873, which covers 20 First Nations and some 55,000 sq. miles.
“If our children do not know their history, how can they protect it for future generations?” he asked.
The answer, Chief Hunter argued, is to ensure existing treaties are honoured to the letter so the original custodians of the river be allowed to continue the work of their ancestors and help protect the river and other resources for everyone.
“Treaties are the last bastion of protection for lands and resources for everyone,” he noted.
But First Nations cannot guarantee the security of the river on their own, so Chief Hunter then put forward a radical proposal—to join with all the other stakeholders to present a united front against threats to the river’s future health.
“We are natural allies,” he reasoned. “We must stand together to protect our rural culture. Our fortunes are tied together.”
Chief Hunter said he feels the greatest threat to the health of the district—and the river that defines it—is the decline of the family farm.
“Family farms are dying,” he remarked. “It must stop. We must stem the tide of agri-business. Otherwise, we will see a growing dependence on an industry that does not depend on a sustainable resource, such as mining.”
Chief Hunter then proposed forming a partnership with farming properties.
With the settlement of the recent surrender claim, Rainy River First Nations now has possession of a great deal of land in the watershed—much of which is adjacent to land currently under agriculture.
“We want to work with you [farmers],” he explained. “We can help you protect the river and its creeks by building solar-powered electric fences to keep livestock from damaging the banks, and solar-powered pumps to bring water to them instead.”
Chief Hunter then proposed a Summit on Rural Culture to take place over a period of two-four days, sometime with the next year, involving the four groups most directly involved with the future of the river—farmers, outfitters, sportsmen, and First Nations.
“We need to demonstrate to other people across the country that we can take the lead in this,” he stressed.