Ottawa must intervene in Ontario’s land and mining disputes: Fontaine

 

Ottawa must intervene in Ontario's land and mining disputes: Fontaine

 

BY JERED STUFFCO

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

 

TORONTO _ A simmering aboriginal land dispute in southern Ontario and a mining clash in the province's north that led to the jailing of six activists will worsen if the federal government fails to intervene, the country's top aboriginal chief warned Tuesday.

 

Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the federal government has been “absent'' in both disputes, despite Ottawa's legal obligation to protect the land rights of First Nations across the country.

 

“The fair and just resolution of this matter requires the full engagement of the provincial government, the federal government and the First Nation governments,'' Fontaine told a rally gathered outside the Ontario legislature.

 

“Any government that is absent at the table will result in further complications.''

 

On Wednesday, the Ontario Court of Appeal will decide if six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation will be sent back to jail for ignoring a court order barring them from a remote drilling site.

 

The KI members were given a five-day reprieve last week after they agreed to stay off the site about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

 

“It is our view that the main reason there are so many conflicts over land is because the federal government has been absent,'' Fontaine said, referring to other conflicts in the Ontario communities of Caledonia and Brantford.

 

Both communities are included in a larger land claim that covers much of the region.

 

“The national chief is inaccurate here on both accounts,'' said Ted Yeomans, communications director for Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.

 

“Our government has been at the negotiating table in good faith for two years and we have tabled two different multi-million-dollar offers to Six Nations leaders in an attempt to get a settlement to this complex claim.''

 

“Also Canada's negotiator has participated in over 100 meetings with the involved parties as we work towards a negotiated settlement.''

 

Fontaine's comments came two days before the second annual aboriginal day of action, which last year saw protesters shut down traffic on Canada's busiest highway.

 

Rather than confrontation, however, Fontaine said the day is about reaching out and informing Canadians about the plight of aboriginals.

 

Referring to a growing conflict between a developer and aboriginals at a construction site in Brantford, Fontaine asked for calm.

 

“My hope, of course, is that saner heads will prevail,'' he said prior to the rally at Queen's Park.

 

On Friday, Brantford's city council will be back at Ontario Superior Court seeking an injunction that would bar protesters from occupying work sites.

 

The injunction also asks for $110 million in damages and for the federal government to put the Armed Forces on notice in the event of a violent confrontation.

 

“I know the people in that area and I know they're fair-minded people,'' Fontaine said.

 

“They want to have what they're entitled to.''

 

He added the federal government must be prepared to come to the table with real solutions if it hopes to avoid a confrontation.

 

Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Indian Affairs, says Ottawa hasn't taken an active negotiating role in KI because licences and permits for developers are a provincial matter.

 

KI Chief Donny Morris, released from jail on Friday, told the Queen's Park rally that the property rights of all Ontario residents are in jeopardy because of outdated mining laws.

 

He called on property owners across the province to pressure the government into changing the legislation.

 

“They're in the same boat as we are,'' he said.

 

“What's happening to our community can happen to them too.''

 

However, while the Mining Act does allow companies to drill on Crown land, there are only small amounts of private land where surface rights and mining rights are separate, said Anne-Marie Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

 

Flanagan said this is the case in one per cent of private land in southern Ontario and less than 0.4 per cent of private land in the province's north.

 

Meanwhile, Six Nations Council Chief Bill Montour says he is “totally opposed'' to a national aboriginal day of action planned for Thursday.

 

“This year, the (band) council has made a resolution that there will be no day of action,'' Montour told the Brantford Expositor on Tuesday.

 

Montour said the national leaders have no authority to call on aboriginals to protest.

 

“We at the community level can do that quite well on our own,'' said Montour.

 

“The national leaders can call for a national day of action, but when it gets out of hand, the community leaders are left to clean up,'' he said.