Respect First Nations Rights and the Rule of Law says AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine
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OTTAWA, March 20 /CNW/ — OTTAWA, March 20 /CNW Telbec/ – On Monday March 17, 2008 an Ontario Superior Court judge sentenced six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) to six months in jail for activities directly related to the protection of their ancestral lands.
"The federal and provincial governments have failed to meet their legal responsibilities to consult and accommodate First Nations interests before approving development projects that significantly affect the lands and livelihoods of First Nations citizens. Meanwhile, those same governments enforce private financial interests by jailing those who defend those rights," National Chief Phil Fontaine said.
There has been an ongoing dispute between Platinex mining company and KI since the province issued a license to the mining company for exploration of the First Nations traditional territory. A similar jail sentence was handed down in a case involving Algonquin First Nations communities near Sharbot Lake, Ontario recently.
"Such decisions ignore the duty of governments to engage with First Nations and criminalize legitimate dissent. That reflects a lack of understanding of Aboriginal rights and Canadian law," National Chief Fontaine noted.
Commenting on an open letter to Premier McGuinty signed by 37 civil society groups, the National Chief said, "They have it right. Respect the rights of First Nations and enter into good faith negotiations".
He added, "There are various interests at stake. There are those held by the federal and provincial governments, by private industry and by civil society, as well as the rights and interests of First Nations that have taken a back seat for over 140 years in this country. What we need is a respectful process that establishes the legal obligations of all parties as the parameters for constructive dialogue. That is how you respect the rule of law. Follow that with real negotiations that respond to the legitimate interests of the different parties. That is how you do business," he added.
"I will be going to speak with Chief Morris and the other jailed Councilors shortly. I am also asking the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada to speak with their members to help them understand how these situations arise and how to act to prevent them," said the National Chief.
"I want to acknowledge the public commitment of the Premier on Ontario to implement the recommendations of the Ipperwash report and give Minister Bryant credit for trying to be more active on these issues, but these conflicts are a signal to them as well as to Prime Minister Harper that real action is needed right now. I strongly recommend that their action fully respect the rule of law by enforcing the legal rights of First Nations with at least equal vigour as they do the rights of private industry".
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.