Ojibway woman fights for her ancestral rights

Create: 12/25/2015 - 00:37
Neesha and her son Alex. Submitted photo.

The Ring of Fire is a name that has been given to a planned mining chromite project (The Iron Chromium Oxide extracted from it is used in chrome plating and in the production of stainless steel) in the Northern Ontario James Bay Lowlands. Until mineral deposits were discovered a decade ago the area was and still is largely a place for hunters and trappers who live in nine scattered remote First Nations communities the inhabitants of whom remain mainly depend on traditional food for nourishment.

One of these hunters was Alex Wassaykeesic who passed away on September 16, 2013. His traplines sit in the North Ward Corridor of the proposed Ring of Fire and his only child, daughter Neecha Dupuis aka Wassaykeesic who is a member of the Saugeen First Nation community has been endeavoring without success to recover his land, which is now been reclassified as commercial from the MNR.
She requested a copy of the proposed Ring of Fire plans and has stated “ I received the proposed plans for the Ring of Fire. I am from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen Indian Tribe No. 258 and do not consent on behalf of my son and myself. My inherent rights to lands, waterways and governance are under attack. One day, I will return to my dad’s trapline with my son, where my family will teach him to, hunt, trap and fish on his ancestral lands passed on from generation to generation. It is my son’s rights as the grandson of Alex Wassaykeesic.”

She has requested a land transfer letter naming her as a No. 1 helper for her fathers trapline so far she has received no reply on the 3rd December she spoke to Wawatay News.

What date year did you start applying for restoration of your fathers’ trapline?

I started the process of land title transfer after my dad passed away on September 29, 2012. I faxed an affidavit and letter to Ken Wavey from Mishkeegogamang First Nation and Joe Wheesk from Nishnawbe Aski Nation. On October 7, 2013 I messaged Connie Gray McKay on Facebook; informing her that I had faxed and called Ken Wavey and he has not contacted me since and to look into this. I informed her I do not consent to the proposed plans for the Ring of Fire from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen Indian Tribe No. 258 Signatory Citizen.
I am Alex Wassaykeesic only child and Alex Dupuis his grandson. I am asserting my rights as one of many families, relations and communities because there is more than one family per trap line and waterways. We should all be individually included more hands on contact. They had three years to let me know and now the Ministry of Natural Resources took back my dad’s land and it will remain until I obtain a piece of paper. I can’t rely on Chief and Council; the information is not getting back to the people.

Can you give me some background on your father and his trapline?

My dad was born in Pickle Lake, he spent most of his life on the land where he fished and hunted with his family and friends. Children’s Aid Society scooped me during the 70’s, adopted and I was raised by a loving, caring family in Aylmer, Quebec. In 1994, I returned home where I met my dad Alex a few years later. He spent a lot of time with his brothers Adam, Simon and Uncle Joe Matawapit, his sisters Ida, Dinah and Christine. Being adopted I never knew my dad, I did lose out on many upbringing such as language, culture, spirituality, history but what I will not lose is our trapline. Perhaps people have already considered compensation but I haven’t started to think of the everlasting environmental impacts much less that I won’t be able to eat the fish, wild rice and animals from this land no more.

He often talked to me how the American’s were taking over his trap cabin. I was concerned at the lack of trapline protection in the areas where American’s tourism hunting and angling has over runs our forest and lakes. Logging companies paid 0% royalties in all losing our livelihoods, hunting, blueberry picking, and wild rice harvest seasons’.

We will continue his role as caretakers of trapline #228 duties and responsibilities as a #1 Helper. Last time I seen my dad he said: “next time you come up, we will go to the trapline with baby and I’ll show you where your family lived long ago”. He died 3 weeks later and I never had a chance to make it up, today I plan to build a cabin and claim our land and safe keep it from mining and honor my ancestors and re-learn everything with the help of my family.

What steps have you taken to get it restored and what has been their response so far?

Absolutely 100% no response from Mishkeegogmang, Ojibway Nation of Saugeen Indian Tribe no, 258; Nishnawbe Aski Nation emailed me a listing of trappers so I can obtain my trappers certificate. I have not heard from any trappers’ teachers for over 3 years so I contacted Ministry of Natural Resources and asked them for a letter of land transfer. He informed me that “I have no land and its commercial lands”. I said: “What do you mean its commercial land? Can you put that in writing? He replied no that would be stupid”. Have not heard from MNR since.

Who have you been specifically dealing with in Ottawa?

I contacted the Access to Information Privacy Act, Deputy Director to request all records related to tripartite negotiations between First Nations, Federal Government and the Ontario government from January 1, 2012 to November 20. 2015. Made formal request all briefing notes/correspondence related to the Ring of Fire.

You have mentioned that there was a complete lack of support from Saugeen Band Chief and Council. Can you give me some detailed background on this?

Being a Signatory Citizen from the Ojibway Nations of Saugeen Indian Tribe No. 258 I have never been helped in 30 years. I contacted the office for over 20 years and they still haven’t returned one single phone call.
95% off reserve do not know that Chief and Council are selling our traplines as seen in video of November 16, 2015. Hidden meetings are taking place without no full support from the people from Saugeen therefore all negotiations should be cancelled until all people are properly consulted as “duty to consult”.

Why do you think they are not cooperating?

Revenue will only benefit ON reserve members. It’s important that we open communication between our on and off reserve member, in relations to prior, informed consent and on behalf of my son and I, We do not consent and this is why I am left out of all meetings.

If offering back the land is totally out of the question would you be seeking any form of compensation? And if granted, what you would you settle for?

The chromite mining will flow directly through our family’s Pipestone waterways in the Northward corridor of the proposed Ring of Fire. I feel an obligation as an AnishnabeKwe to protect the waters, our natural resources and help create businesses for our youth with the help of our elders.
I am a Grass Roots Networker, an advocate for the Missing, Murdered Women, Men and Children, a frontline Firekeeper in defending our rights to exist on our lands; in 2006, I stood on many blockades in solidarity with the Iroquois Confederacy from 6 Nations to Grassy Narrows as a supporter and created lifelong friendships and international alliances.
As one of matriarch of my family, we need safety, off-reserve housing, education; equal training opportunities. We need “how to start you own business with hands on teachings”. Suicide is rampant, let’s create healing lodges for our youth; Elder’s travel lodges, let’s break down the distance and create safe Neechie rides for our people for i.e. Sioux Lookout, Savant Lake, Pickle Lake, Thunder Bay shuttle services and all in between nation to nation building. Let’s design billboards along the TransCanada expressing our artist’s pride with #knowyourfacts. I would like to find out if there is other Neechie’s out there who feels the same way as I do? Let’s connect.

Neecha can be contacted via email at neecha7@gmail.com or ph. 613 7092912

Date Published: 
Friday, December 25, 2015 - 00:30
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