Tomorrow we begin paddling the ancient 350 km trade route from KI to Hudson's Bay along the Fawn and Severn rivers. The KI community gathered for a feast to wish us well on our journey. We ate lake trout, the fish that is central to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug – The People of the Big Trout Lake.
Head Councilor Cecilia Begg spoke first, explaining the importance of the water and the need to protect it – a theme that the elders had focussed on earlier in the day. Cecilia, a grandmother and KI leader, was jailed in 2008 for refusing to allow mining company Platinex to drill on KI homeland in the headwaters of the Big Trout Lake.
When the powerful women elders of the community heard that Platinex had arrived on their land to drill they would not allow the sacred waters of their home lake to be contaminated. They travelled in the depth of winter to the drill site, set up camp, and offered the miners tea.
Soon it became clear that the elders were not going to leave. More KI people arrived and built a log cabin to shelter the elders.
Platinex suied KI for $10 billion dollars (yes, billion), and six KI leaders, including Cecilia, were sentenced to six months in jail for refusing to obey a court order authorizing the drilling.
But KI persevered and thousands of environmentalists, unionists, church goers, and students joined KI in their fight to protect their water and their right to control their homeland. Eventually Ontario was forced to back down, buy out Platinex's mining interests, and withdraw that land from further mining activity.
A tiny community took on the mining industry and won through the leadership of their elders, a deep commitment, and strong social movement alliances.
While in jail KI's Chief and Councilors decided they would record the oral teachings of their elders in writing, and begin a process to ensure that their water will be protected forever through KI Indigenous Law.