First Nation leaders are concerned Ministry of Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey’s listening tour across NAN territory will be considered as consultation.
“Every time the minister says hello to somebody,” said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy, that could be consultation to her.
Beardy continues to express concerns about the Far North Act, Bill 191, which was first introduced in the provincial legislature in June 2009 to move towards permanent protection of at least half of Ontario’s Far North.
“The community people, the rights holders are very concerned with the impact it could have because the protected area means it will restrict potential resource development the communities might want to be engaged in,” Beardy said.
Beardy said the protected area under Bill 191 could potentially cover up to half of NAN territory in the Far North.
“We know how these ministry levels deal,” said Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris, referring to three meetings former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant held in KI. “We had to find out in the Legislative Assembly he was documenting it as consultation. Two of those meetings didn’t even involve mining.”
After the Ontario Legislature proposed hearings in NAN communities for the week of June 14, the NAN chiefs passed a resolution during the June 8-10 Keewaywin Conference asking the Standing Committee on General Government to meet in a number of NAN communities to hear community concerns and input on the Far North Act during July or August. The Standing Committee had scheduled public hearings in Toronto, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Chapleau and Timmins in 2009, but the Far North communities which will be most affected by the bill were not provided with a single hearing.
“The concepts provided under Bill 191 are foreign to my people, so they need time to understand the concepts and understand the terminology in the English language so we can have meaningful input,” Beardy said, explaining the one-week notice given for the June 14 hearings was unacceptable. “Community people are still hoping they can speak directly to the standing committee.”
Emily Kirk, a representative from the MNR minister’s office, said the standing committee only had a limited period of time to meet with community members due to a legislative decision.
“But unfortunately, it is a legislative decision and they are only given a certain window of time,” Kirk said. “We weren’t given another time to do it. It is a legislative decision, it is a legislative process.”
Jeffrey’s tour included April 12 and 13 visits to Marten Falls, Neskantaga, Mishkeegogamang and Eabametoong; July 5 and 6 visits to Moosonee and Moose Factory; and July 12 and 13 visits to Sandy Lake, Cat Lake and Slate Falls. The chiefs of Sachigo Lake, North Caribou Lake and Bearskin Lake also took part in the Slate Falls visit.
Kirk said Jeffrey is traveling to First Nation communities in the Far North to listen to community member’s insights on Bill 191.
“We are not using the word consultation,” Kirk said. “These are more listening tours.”
Bill 191 is scheduled to appear at the standing committee Sept. 13 and 15 for clause-by-clause consideration of proposed amendments. The bill will then be called back to the Legislative Assembly for third reading this fall, after which it will be put to a vote. If passed, it will be given Royal Assent.
Morris said his community is inviting representatives from Aboriginal Affairs, MNR and Ministry of Northern Development Mines and Forestry to provide presentations at a KI community meeting Aug. 17 and 18 where the community will decide whether they want to establish a working relationship with the Ontario government. Other agenda items include the possibility of commencing the land-use planning initiative with the MNR and working with the MNDMF on mining and mineral exploration under the new Mining Act or to continue exercising its own sovereignty and jurisdiction. Morris said KI members may want their own Majeewin Aaki recognized or to have their own Aboriginal and treaty rights recognized.
“The meeting we are having will determine the future with my own community,” Morris said, adding it will be up the community to decide if it has a working relationship, co-governance structure in place or goes to a its own sovereignty.”
Morris said the community would have a say in how they want to carve out their land and development and which companies they would work with if they decided to exercise their own sovereignty.
“We don’t have to get government protocols to block us or interfere or dictate,” Morris said.
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