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‘We never surrendered our lands’

Thursday January 24, 2013
Rick Garrick/Wawatay News

Constance Lake Chief Roger Wesley and Webequie’s Roy Spence discussed jurisdiction issues during a Ministry of Natural Resources Planning Together workshop held from Jan. 14-18 in Thunder Bay.
“Our people believe in treaties, we believe in inherent rights, we believe in who (we) are and they believe that they are the holders of the title (to) the lands and resources,” Spence said.

Jurisdiction was one of the topics discussed during a Ministry of Natural Resources Planning Together workshop held from Jan. 14-18 in Thunder Bay.

The workshop was held to provide space for First Nations to advise the provincial government on its Far North Land Use Planning Initiative.

“If we never surrendered our lands, they still belong to us,” said Constance Lake Chief Roger Wesley. “We signed treaties to use those lands, to share those lands. We never ceded title.”
Wesley said jurisdiction is a term that has been touted and misused for the past century.

“We were still trying to share,” Wesley said. “Some foreign party came in and started throwing that term around, stating that it is theirs, it’s their jurisdiction. It’s never a term that is in the Cree language, as far as I know. Because we never had jurisdiction; we had inherent title since the beginning of time. Jurisdiction means nothing to Constance Lake. We know where our lands are and we know who the true titleholders are. It’s not me; it’s my people.”

Webequie’s Roy Spence said jurisdiction is a big issue in his community’s territory.
“Our people believe in treaties, we believe in inherent rights, we believe in who (we) are and they believe that they are the holders of the title (to) the lands and resources,” Spence said.

Shared territories were also discussed during a Jan. 17 panel discussion on how shared areas were traditionally identified and managed by families and communities. The panel featured Wesley, Spence, Wawakapewin’s Simon Frogg and two MNR far north planners.

“We’ve always had these areas of shared use,” Frogg said. “These were areas that different groups in different communities utilized. Basically they were places where they got together, meeting places, and generally they ... visited with each other. That’s how they kept track of each other. That’s how they shared news.”

Frogg said people would discuss future plans at the shared areas.

“In other words, it related to people having a common history and geography, a common language and culture and also kinship,” Frogg said. “People have been in these areas for a long time, so they already know more or less the general boundaries. We’ve always been there.”
Attended by 90 First Nations people from 31 First Nation communities and a number of MNR Far North Branch representatives, the workshop was held to exchange ideas and perspectives on aspects of the Far North Land Use Planning Initiative to help enhance the community based land use planning process.

“If we never surrendered our lands, they still belong to us. We signed treaties to use those lands, to share those lands. We never ceded title.”

- Constance Lake Chief Roger Wesley

“There has been lots of good discussion,” said Dianne Corbett, director of the Far North Branch. “We set the workshop up with a lot of panel discussions with community members sharing their experiences about land use planning. The whole intent of the conference is for communities to learn from each other. We’re here as facilitators to help that dialogue and I’m pleased with the conference.”

About 19 First Nations youth also shared ideas on what land use planning means to them during a Jan. 16 session, which included the development of a land use plan for a community site.
“They gave us this little town to work with and our first idea was to keep all the industrial within the town,” said Armanda Cimon, one of the youth participants who works with Keewaytinook Okimakanak Research Institute. “That way we were able to protect a lot of our forested areas. We had a clear lake and its got minerals, so we made that one of our protected areas as well.”

Cimon said her group decided they would go for solar and wind power generation to protect the environment.

“And up here they also gave us a mill, and in behind it they had minerals,” Cimon said. “So we figured we would put our mine right around it because the mill was going to be clearing out the land anyways.”

Cimon said her group decided to keep the community as a fly-in community.

The workshop also included sessions to facilitate dialogue between communities by identifying successes, opportunities and concerns and to encourage dialogue and shared learning among participants about information and knowledge needed to support community based land use plans and policies.


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