by Gabriel Sinduda
Indigenous leaders from the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (K.I.) First Nation community drew over one hundred attentive listeners on the evening of November 22 for a downtown community event as they presented their case for the defense and future of their lands and environment in the face of their newest adversary, a mining corporation that goes by the name God’s Lake Resources.
Located about 600 km north of Thunder Bay, K.I. is a fly-in community of pristine boreal forests, waters, and wetlands. Big Trout Lake (661 sq. km) is central to the life of these Oji-Cree people. The closest urban centre is Sioux Lookout, hundreds of kilometres to the south. Like so many northern Nations, the population is relatively impoverished, and the community infrastructure largely inadequate or sub-standard. Typical also of such communities, there is a substantial corporate interest exploiting their land-based resources.
K.I. Chief Danny Morris opened the community event and K.I. Spokesperon John Cutfeet filled in the history and details for the presentation at the Ryerson Student Centre as part of the program for Indigenous Sovereignty Week. Chief Morris along with five others (to become known as the K.I. Six) were imprisoned in 2008 for defending their territory from Platinex, a mining company with platinum prospects in the K.I. territory. They were subsequently released when in July of 2008 the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned their sentences.
Platinex was found to be in operation on K.I. territory in 2006 without any prior consultation with K.I. representatives. An interim injunction was obtained by the K.I. First Nation with the intention of working out some mutually viable arrangement, but after being worn out bureaucratically and fiscally by the demands of an oppressively lop-sided Ontario-Platinex agenda, K.I. decided it could no longer continue the process. Soon after withdrawing from the process, the courts awarded Platinex “immediate and free access to the territory” and the infamous stand-off ensued. Eventually, the Ontario government paid off Platinex to the tune of $5 million plus mediation and legal fees to pack up and end the ordeal.
Presumably as some lip-service to this debacle, the Government of Ontario promised a reform of the Mining Act (which is as yet unavailable) and they introduced the Far North Act, which spelled out the necessary consultation requirements with First Nations for any prospecting or developments on First Nations jurisdiction. One might assume, as Cutfeet suggested, that the Far North Act was developed precisely because the federal government knows that it has no legal jurisdiction on most First Nation territory. In response to the K.I. filing of a land claim, however, the Ontario government stated that the entitlement claim “was tenuous at best…and without merit”.
Much of the debate over land entitlement goes back to the James Bay Treaty of 1905, known as Treaty 9. The Crown likes to assert that this Treaty is clearly defined by a notion of “cede and surrender” while in actuality there is not even an equivalent word for “cede” in the Cree native language. As a simultaneous translator by profession, John Cutfeet should know. He said that even today, he is hard-pressed to translate such terminology as “cede and surrender” for there is really no equivalent terminology in their language, and he insists that the elders of the community, by their oral tradition and life experience, offer no recollection of ever giving up the land. They rather insist that all agreements in fact assumed a continued relationship and steward of their land, in co-existence with the colonial government.
By this time the K.I. had had enough of government and corporate agendas challenging their land rights and destabilizing their community. In an impressive surge of sovereignty they conducted a referendum for their nation on July 5, 2011 that overwhelmingly approved their Water Declaration and Consultation Protocol. The referendum was approved by 96% of ballots cast. Under the Water Declaration, thirteen thousand square miles of watershed were announced as being autonomously protected and declared untouchable by industry. The Consultation Protocol established a process by which outside interests must conduct themselves in negotiations with the K.I. for land-use. While groups like the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace signed on to their Declaration, it was virtually ignored by the Canadian Government.
And then along came God’s Lake Resources. In a surprisingly arrogant insult to the K.I. people they initiated exploration a short crow’s fly from Big Trout Lake in pristine watersheds and threatening the site of a sacred burial ground with at least 31 graves and more in the surrounding area.
On November 14, 2011 the K.I. broke talks with the Ontario government after it became clear that there was not a mutual and sincere dedication to a proposed resolution via a KI-Ontario joint panel, as the Ontario government was unwilling to impose an immediate halt to the mining comopany’s explorations while the panel ensued. K.I. issued a press release with the inclusion of the following statement:
“We need a reasonable process to protect our sacred areas. That process cannot take place without assurances that GLR will not access the land and where the sites are. We cannot talk with your government while GLR desecrates.”
During his introduction, Chief Donny Morris contemplated the scenario with the company: “We don’t know if it’s going down that same road, where it wants a pay-out from Ontario, …this is something that we have to try and prevent too – that’s a sure way for a company to get a quick pay-out, to use us that way…” And with an election on the horizon at the time, one has to wonder if there wasn’t some deliberate scheming for such a consolation prize.
Regardless of motive, the K.I. are faced now with a serious threat from a mining corporation that seems intent on desecrating their territory, clearly in defiance to prior Supreme Court jurisprudence which deemed essential some due “consultation, negotiation, accommodation and reconciliation” with the community (this from the July 2008 Ontario Court of Appeal decision overturning the prison sentences of the K.I. Six).
Chief Morris made no bones about his hope and intention of expanding the K.I. cause to activists and others in our region: “We are moving forward, we’re looking for support … we’re looking at all avenues, we’re not going to stop half-way now, we’re going to go all the way … and here in the GTA, that’s where our support is …”
For more information on how you can help: http://kilands.org