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New grand chief pledges protection of lands

Tuesday September 4, 2012
photo courtesy of NAN

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said he wants to work on unemployment in the communities, implementing terms of the treaties with Ontario and Canada, and changing NAN both internally and externally so it better reflects the needs of the communities.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s new grand chief wasted little time in wading into the controversy over resource development on First Nations lands.

During a media meet and greet in Thunder Bay on Aug. 22, Harvey Yesno used his opening speech to declare that First Nations in NAN territory are willing to protect their lands by “whatever means possible.”

“One thing for sure, on the lands, its going to be all about protection,” Yesno said. “We’re not going to protest over our own lands. Nobody protests over their own property. But people will protect their property. And we’ll protect it by whatever means possible.”

Yesno’s comments come as conflict over the Ring of Fire mining development continues to brew.
Neskantaga First Nation chief Peter Moonias has said he is willing to die stopping a bridge from being built over the Attawapiskat River. Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Stan Louttit has also made threats of direct action in the Ring of Fire.

Cliffs Resources and Noront Resources both have Ring of Fire projects currently undergoing environmental assessment. Cliffs has already proposed to build its chromite mine in the region, an all-access road south to Nakina and a processing facility in Sudbury. Noront is currently assessing options for its project.

Meanwhile Matawa First Nations has an ongoing judicial review waiting to come before the courts that, if successful, would force the companies to conduct a full Joint Review Panel of the projects.

Yesno also pledged to focus his first term as grand chief on economic development in the communities. He cited high unemployment as a key driver for many of the social problems facing the North.

“You all hear about the lack of adequate community infrastructure, whether that’s housing or schools and on and on. But the unemployment (in the communities) is greater than the unemployment in the great depression. That’s unacceptable for any society. We want to see that change,” Yesno said.

The new NAN executive was elected on Aug. 15 during NAN’s Keywaywin conference in Kashechewan. Alvin Fiddler, Goyce Kakegamic and Les Louttit were elected as deputy grand chiefs. Only Louttit returns from the previous executive council.

The new council pledged a change in the way it, and NAN itself, operates.

Fiddler said that while on the campaign trail, the candidates repeatedly heard that NAN has become “irrelevant” and less of a voice of the communities.

“We want to realign NAN so that it fits our community priorities, and so that it is there to support our leadership and their struggles on the issues that they deal with everyday,” Fiddler said.

Yesno said changes are planned for the way NAN operates internally, as well as in the way NAN deals with governments and industry.

Part of those changes is the shift from protesting to protecting lands, the grand chief said. But Yesno also noted that NAN expects both federal and provincial governments to treat NAN as a nation, with elected officials meeting to make decisions on issues affecting northern Ontario First Nations.

“We are definitely going to make some change, and the engagement with the government is certainly going to be first and foremost,” Yesno said. “I’m not interested in meeting with bureaucrats. I want to meet with counterparts that will be making decisions.”

He said that implementing the treaties with Ontario and Canada would also be paramount during his council’s term.

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