NAN suspends bilateral discussions with Ontario

 

NAN suspends bilateral discussions with Ontario

 

Copyright © 2008 Canada NewsWire Ltd. All rights reserved.

 

THUNDER BAY, ON, March 17 /CNW/ — THUNDER BAY, ON, March 17 /CNW/ – Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Stan Beardy is suspending bilateral discussions with the Government of Ontario until further direction from NAN leadership, describing this morning's sentencing of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) leadership a criminalization of Aboriginal law and custom and a complete disregard for the 'new relationship' the McGuinty government is trying to establish with First Nations.

 

"The extreme positions of the Government of Ontario to support jailing First Nation leaders is an insult to the so-called 'new relationship' with our people," said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy, adding he rejects today's ruling and the Northern Table is suspended until NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly provide further direction. "Today's decision has disrespected and dishonoured Aboriginal law and custom, seriously jeopardizing any relationship with our treaty partner Ontario. We saw it last month with Ardoch and today we see it with KI."

 

Beardy's comments follow Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith's sentence of six months in jail for KI Chief Donny Morris and council members Samuel McKay, Jack McKay, Bruce Sakakeep, Darryl Sainnawap, and Cecilia Begg. This sentence follows a January 2008 civil contempt of court conviction where the group failed to obey a court order allowing junior mining exploration company Platinex Inc. access to KI traditional territory.

 

"Today's ruling cites the rule of law and that KI leaders are not above the law as they defied a court order to allow Platinex to exploit their natural resources, however we see that the Government of Ontario is, indeed, above the law as the Province continues to neglect supreme court rulings to consult and accommodate First Nations prior to resource development," said Beardy.

 

Platinex sued the remote First Nation community for $10 billion in February 2006 following a peaceful protest demanding drilling equipment be removed from KI traditional territory.

 

In August 2006 Justice Patrick Smith ruled in favour of KI, ordering negotiations between KI, Platinex, and the Government of Ontario. These discussions failed due to the unwillingness of the Government of Ontario to understand the First Nation perspective and respect their consultation and accommodation protocols.

 

KI was forced to leave litigation October 2007 after the legal process bankrupted their community, seriously affecting community services and programming.

 

"I am proud of the KI leadership. They honoured their community, they protected the land, they stayed the course," said Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Arnold Gardner who represents 28 First Nation communities in Treaty 3 territory (near and around Kenora). "The continued marginalization of KI by the Government of Ontario and industry has the potential to disrupt constructive relationships that have been established in Ontario to this point. We've worked hard to get to where we are now and this is a step backwards."

 

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Michael Bryant presented KI leadership with a draft protocol during a meeting in the community March 4, however it did not address any of the specific issues involved in the KI-Platinex dispute.

 

NAN Chiefs will meet to decide whether or not to continue the newly established bilateral partnership with the Government of Ontario (November 2007) intended to jointly develop a results-based process to address and resolve current challenges in the areas of consultation and accommodation, resource development, mining, parks, and licensing permits within NAN territory. This partnership is currently called "The Northern Table".

 

Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a political territorial organization representing 49 First Nation communities part of James Bay Treaty 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty 5. KI is a signatory to James Bay Treaty 9 (1929).