We have been led to believe that the federal government is not committed to protection and support for our traditional territory.
Unfortunately, a recent conflict with a mining company demonstrates the reality of that statement.
On 26 March, the World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defence reported that dredging on the Sleeping Giant is a new attack on our nation’s rights as one of the world’s last six wild grizzly bear habitat areas.
While at first it appeared that this particular dispute was between the park service and the company, Fission Uranium, that had the permit and permission to dig the hole, the facts show that the issue is further coordination between mining companies and the Ontario provincial government.
For reasons unknown, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins recently refused to issue a human health health certification that the provincial government relies on to approve mining operations that will endanger human health. The agreement the province had made with Fission had called for the minister to issue the health certificate, but the minister stated that the certificate was not a mandatory requirement. The latest development will jeopardize all health care projects, including mining work within the park.
What kind of government is this that would deny a health certificate to anyone, let alone its own province?
I know that Ontario needs to generate revenue through resource development, but with a provincial government that considers itself to be an innovation leader and that embraces an ecological agenda, the province should not be making decisions with lasting health impacts based on financial opportunity alone.
A global environmental health standard is widely recognized and recommended. Another example is that the Easi-Newton shellfish aquaculture project in Nova Scotia was seen by the provincial government as a possible source of funding for their municipal electric grid, by selling them the right to use the aquaculture licence and by giving the company the right to sell shellfish. Thankfully, the Government of Nova Scotia decided not to move forward with the idea.
Without a health certificate, the Grassy Narrows First Nation has no rights to own and use their traditional territory, which includes the area where Fission proposed to mine uranium. Some First Nations who used to mine other land are entitled to take positions in other jurisdictions due to the “quo warranto” clause in international treaties. It is clear that a mining company should not be allowed to impact the right of a First Nation to sustain their culture and livelihood in this way.
Grassy Narrows First Nation has worked hard to maintain their cultural heritage, but the government of Ontario has repeatedly ignored their traditional rights as valid bylaws. First Nations have worked hard to address mining company demands, but very little has been accomplished in this regard. Now, they are faced with a potentially devastating impact to their traditional territory.
This is what you get when you grant people extraordinary power. When one company is given the ability to change the culture and livelihood of a local First Nation, it is less than a half-century old, where are you going to go?
Grassy Narrows First Nation has worked long and hard to gain the rights to their land, they have had to operate in the shadows of other First Nations whose claims are older, and other First Nations who have clashed with the government of Ontario for decades, many times to protect their traditional land.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and Ontario’s previous premier Dalton McGuinty need to set the example to stop the destructive development of their home territory, and Mr. Hoskins needs to work with the First Nation to produce the health certificate, and work with the provincial government to protect our rights.
We are coming to the end of an important era in this country. This is not the time to kill off the momentum of the Idle No More movement and to set back all of the progress that we have made. The old era of ignoring indigenous peoples and treating their land as private property is long past.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation has the right to re-claim their land. They are the only community among 11 mining companies currently occupying and contaminated reserves in the vicinity of the Headwaters area of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, an important junction for logging routes and waterways such as the Lac des Iles, Carvin River, Saguenay and Beaver Sully.
Mr. Hoskins and the Ontario provincial government need to prove that they are not elected to be bullies. The longer they keep their cards close to their chest, the more they are going to force First Nations to go back to the negotiating table. They can avoid it by issuing a health certificate.