Aboriginal chief vows to return to jail if Ont., doesn’t negotiate on Mining Act

 

Aboriginal chief vows to return to jail if Ont., doesn't negotiate on Mining Act

 

BY TOBI COHEN

(c) 2008 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

 

TORONTO _ The chief of a northern Ontario aboriginal community who was incarcerated along with five other leaders in a dispute with a mining exploration company said he's prepared to return to jail if the province doesn't come to the table and review the Mining Act.

 

Happy to be home on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation land after winning a temporary release from jail Friday, Chief Donny Morris told The Canadian Press he'll have no choice but to continue protesting if the province allows Platinex Inc., to drill on his community's traditional territory, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

 

“I have to uphold the community membership's mandate and at the moment they don't want any drilling or development of that sort,'' he said.

 

“We're willing to take that risk. When you're backed up into a corner with your last hope trying to preserve your territory, you don't have much of a choice.''

 

Disobeying an injunction that prohibited him from interfering with the company's work is what landed Morris and his colleagues in jail in the first place. They were granted the temporary reprieve after they agreed to abide by the injunction _ a decision made only after Platinex promised not to bring an exploration crew onto the disputed land before 9 a.m. Thursday.

 

The group dubbed the KI 6 is due back in court Wednesday where they are appealing their six-month sentence for contempt of court. The Ontario Appeals Court could decide they've served enough time and release them or send them back to jail to serve out the remainder of their sentence.

 

After more than two months of confinement, rubbing shoulders with criminals and being told when to eat and sleep, Morris said he is trying to adjust to the “wide open spaces'' he's used to.

 

He said the group is in good spirits and were welcomed home with a big party Saturday night at the community hall.

 

“I'm trying to adjust to my old lifestyle but I'm having difficulty,'' he said.

 

“It was very difficult being institutionalized.''

 

The brief reprieve gives the group, which includes deputy KI chief Jack McKay and members Sam McKay, Darryl Sainnawap, Cecilia Begg and Bruce Sakakeep, a chance to join supporters at the Ontario legislature Monday for a multi-day rally aimed at pressing the Liberal government to allow First Nations to say no to mining and forestry on their lands.

 

“The government, they have mouthed all the right words,'' event organizer Jack Lapointe of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation said.

 

“They make these public statements about how they are meeting behind closed doors with us and how they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with First Nations but it's all B.S.''

 

The government has said it's committed to changing Ontario's 100-year-old mining laws to include proper consultation with First Nations but it will take time.

 

Still, Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said last month the government was not prepared to heed calls for a moratorium that would stop mining companies from staking claims on Crown land in the interim.

 

“I can't figure out Ontario. There's a lot of public support and public criticism going their way and what is it going to take for them to acknowledge our leadership, that we want to play a role in our future too,'' Morris said.

 

“For them to say they're supporting us. OK, prove it…Give us that opportunity where we sit side by side…and let's hammer out a new arrangement how mining industries should operate in our last pocket of environment that's clean.''

 

Participants were going to use the event to call for the release of the KI 6 prior to the unprecedented turn of events Friday but will still be speaking out in support of Bob Lovelace of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation in eastern Ontario, who remains in solitary confinement on a hunger strike for a similar breach.

 

Protesters, which will include members of KI, Ardoch, as well as Grassy Narrows First Nation, will remain on the front lawn of the legislature conducting traditional aboriginal ceremonies until May 29 _ the national aboriginal day of action and possibly the day the KI 6 are required to turn themselves in to the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.