The toll booth initiative undertaken by Couchiching First Nation is drawing support from beyond its immediate community, including a visit from Grand Council Treaty #3 Ogichidaakwe Diane Kelly yesterday.
“I’m here to support Couchiching First Nation,” said Kelly, who took a turn in the booth collecting tolls from passing vehicles.
“I think it’s a drastic step that they have to take, and it’s unfortunate that after all these years, all these decades, that these land issue is still unresolved,” she added.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we have to put people on the highway, it’s a safety concern, it’s a risk,” Kelly continued.
“But I think it’s an important statement, and I hope that the federal government and the provincial government wake up and start trying to resolve [this] because this isn’t the only outstanding thing.
“There’s numerous claims that still have to be resolved,” she stressed.
Reaction from other First Nations within Treaty #3 have included support for Couchiching because “we’re all in the same boat when it comes to unresolved land issues,” Kelly explained, pointing to the talk about reconciliation of a relationship between aboriginal people and Ontarians—something of which there’s “still a lot of work to be done on.”
“I can understand that it’s an inconvenience to the tourists, as well as the townspeople, but at the same time it’s been an inconvenience to us, as First Nation people, to have our land issue unresolved,” Kelly remarked.
“So again, let’s all work together and try to resolve the situation and reconcile some of the hurt feelings and maybe the misunderstandings—because I think a lot of it seems to be misunderstanding.”
Becoming educated about First Nations’ issues is one of the things Terry Waboose, deputy grand chief for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), asked the greater community for during his visit to the Couchiching toll booth site yesterday afternoon.
“I’m here basically to support Couchiching and what they’re doing here, which is basically asserting their jurisdiction over their land and trying to call attention to the governments in terms of some of the grievances that they have,” noted Waboose, pointing to the issue of land contamination and compensation for the land upon which Highway #11 sits.
Couchiching is not unique when it comes to the issues First Nation communities are dealing with with the government, he stressed.
NAN itself represents 49 communities within James Bay Treaty #9 and Ontario portions of Treaty #5.
“Like many other First Nation communities, we do have a lot of unsettled issues with claims—land claims, particularly—and unfortunately what happens is when things aren’t settled in a timely manner, First Nations, unfortunately, have to resort to these things,” Waboose said.
While some may disagree with the toll booth, Waboose said it’s right what Couchiching is doing, and encouraging people to educate themselves when it comes to First Nations’ issues.
“A lot of the grievances are historical in nature, but something that should be solved today,” he remarked.
“If they were solved a while ago, you wouldn’t have these types of issues,” he added, hoping the greater population of Fort Frances should support the community.
“We are neighbours,” he stressed. “We want the same things as they want.
“They want a good education for their children, nice, safe communities, nice clean air, and good environment.”