Native protest tests new ministry

 

Native protest tests new ministry; Teepee at Legislature puts focus on logging, mineral exploration

 

Rob Ferguson

Toronto Star

Copyright (c) 2007 The Toronto Star

 

Aided by environmental activists, two First Nations from northern Ontario pitched a huge teepee on the Legislature's front lawn yesterday afternoon to protest logging and mineral exploration on aboriginal lands.

 

A member of the Rainforest Action Network suspended herself from the top of the teepee tripod, enduring stifling heat, in a bid to make it harder for security officials to take down the tent.

 

Chief Simon Fobister of the Grassy Narrows First Nation accused Montreal-based logging company Abitibi Consolidated of clear-cutting swaths of forest and said the province has done little to help natives stop the practice.

 

"Our trap lines are being devastated," said Fobister, whose First Nation is centred 80 kilometres north of Kenora and is suffering from 75 per cent unemployment. "Everything goes away, birds, animals, even insects."

 

Spokesperson John Cutfeet of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation at Big Trout Lake, about 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, said his members are frustrated at the Ontario government's lack of consultation over granting mineral exploration rights as required by a court decision.

 

"They continue to hand out permits for exploration. How is that respecting the rights of our people?"

 

The protest yesterday was not tied to this Friday's scheduled national day of action for aboriginals, but designed in part to see if the province's new stand-alone native affairs ministry is ready to step up efforts to deal with aboriginals.

 

Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay was in Northern Ontario yesterday but told the Star by telephone he is "very close" to announcing some timber allocations to First Nations in northwestern Ontario to help them provide jobs.

 

"They'll be getting into the timber business," he said, adding that the Grassy Narrows nation has not applied. "We're still trying to work with them on this."

 

As for the concerns at the KI First Nation, Ramsay said the courts have set up an interim process for deciding on exploration rights and the government is following that.