Archbishop issues stern rebuke on jailing of natives

 

Archbishop issues stern rebuke on jailing of natives

 

MICHAEL VALPY

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Canada's Anglican primate has called the jailing of six Northern Ontario native community members a throwback to colonialism, a dangerous violation of the rights of native people and an act of the Ontario government putting itself above the law.

 

Archbishop Fred Hiltz's unusually forceful language appears in a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, in which the Anglican leader implies that members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation are being punished solely for defending the sacred trust of their traditional lands.

 

He also links the jailing of KI Chief Donny Morris, the deputy chief and four councillors to the abuses of the residential school system, and says it has caused a “serious impasse” between Canada's native peoples and the Ontario government.

 

On March 17, Mr. Justice Patrick Smith of the Ontario Superior Court ordered the KI six jailed for six months for being in contempt of court by refusing to allow mining company Platinex to test drill for minerals on land the band claims as its own.

 

The sentence was the culmination of a decade-long legal battle between the band and the mining company, which claims the right under Ontario's Mining Act to explore for minerals anywhere on Crown land regardless of whether

 

the land is claimed by aboriginal peoples.

 

Each is suing the other for $10-million. Legal fees have drained the band's budget; last October, it was forced to abandon the litigation process. But the chief and his council have vowed to continue protesting against the mining company's exploration, leading to the contempt of court conviction. Judge Smith had ruled that the company could execute a limited hunt for mineral deposits.

 

Archbishop Hiltz told the Premier that he stood behind Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation – an organization representing 49 native communities in northwestern Ontario – and his declaration that the province was acting above the law by not adhering to court rulings that it consult and accommodate native peoples prior to resource development.

 

The jailing, the primate said, arises “out of the continual imposition of the power and values of colonizers.”

 

Ven. Paul Feheley, the primate's principal secretary, said that the jailing order struck Archbishop Hiltz as “seemingly a backward step.” Archdeacon Feheley said that the primate, since his election as the church's national leader nine months ago, has been increasingly conscious of “the tremendous injustices done to native people and the need for people to wake up about the issue.”

 

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant offered a plan, which he called a template for other bands, that would require Platinex to consult with KI First Nation at every step of mining development and ensure the band benefited from any discoveries. The band rejected the plan because of its assumption that exploration would go ahead.