By Shawn Bell
Promoting the traditional use of northern waterways and the need for protection of its watershed, a group of paddlers from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation has embarked on a canoe trip to Fort Severn.
Fourteen paddlers in seven canoes left KI on August 24. They expect to arrive in Fort Severn after nine or 10 days on the rivers.
Richard Anderson, KI’s watershed community worker, said the trip is about more than just following a trading route that his ancestors used to travel every year.
“The trip is for awareness that we are protecting our watersheds for future generations,” Anderson said. “The Elders have taught us that our water is very important for us up here, and we should keep it that way.”
Anderson has done the journey from KI to Fort Severn 11 times, and he still marvels at the efforts of his ancestors who used to do the trip there and back laden with supplies.
He said there are quite a few portages along the way, some retaining signs of their use through the ages.
There are also a number of significant historic sites along the rivers, including gravesites that the community group will honour during the trip, Anderson said.
Over the past decade, KI has waged an ongoing struggle to protect its traditional lands from mining exploration. Earlier this year the First Nation won a concession from the Ontario government for over 22,000 hectares to be removed from mining development. That followed KI’s opposition to gold mining company God’s Lake Resources’ attempts to explore in KI land without informing the First Nation.
Ontario’s land withdrawal, however, only encompasses half of KI’s traditional watershed of 13,000 square kilometres.
In 2011 KI voted in favour of the KI Watershed Declaration, a plan to place all of KI’s traditional watershed under protection from mining exploration.
But the community says the Ontario government is still ignoring the First Nation’s calls to manage its land the way it sees fit.
“The KI people have protected our entire home watershed through Indigenous Law,” said KI Chief Donny Morris in a press release. “Now we are calling on Ontario to respect our protection before this sacred landscape is poisoned by the diamond, gold, and metals mining companies who have set their sights on it.”
For Anderson, canoe trips like the one the group has embarked on serve to show how the First Nation still uses the land as his people always have.
It is also a way of passing on the traditional knowledge to the youth in the community.
“I’ve been on this trip with my kids, I’ve taken them on that route,” Anderson said. “It’s really important that they get to see these routes that our ancestors went through just to survive, to take supplies up there and bring them back to KI.”
“It’s all we have up here, our land and our water,” he added. “It’s important that we keep it for future generations because they are the next ones that will be using the land.”
Anderson added that the community is thinking of hosting a bigger canoe trip to Fort Severn next year, and that anyone who wished to join them would be welcome.