Nishnawbe Aski Nation is concerned the Far North Act will take away potential opportunities for their communities on their traditional lands.
“It has been their understanding that it’s been their land for their use,” said Deputy Grand Chief Mike Metatawabin during an interview Sept. 24, a day after Bill 191 passed Third Reading in the Ontario legislature. “The communities want to be involved and want to participate in anything going on. This bill takes away any potential opportunities like that.”
Metatawabin said some NAN communities favour Bill 191 while others are against Bill 191.
“We’ll be taking the time to sit down and find out where we go from here,” Metatawabin said. “How do we want to address this, how do we want to combat this, how do we tackle this?”
Metatawabin said any current exploration will be interrupted.
“I don’t know how this bill can be passed when at the same time northern Ontario is promoting the Ring of Fire,” Metatawabin said. “It’s got to make sense for everybody, it’s got to make sense for the communities.
“We want our businesses to prosper from any development.”
A Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) spokesperson said Bill 191 opens up an unprecedented opportunity to initiate progress and positive change in Ontario’s Far North.
“The government will continue to work jointly with First Nation and northern communities to strike the right balance between environmental protection and sustainable economic development,” said Greg MacNeil, an MNR spokesperson, in an email. “Existing Aboriginal rights are recognized and affirmed in the Constitution and the province must meet these obligations. Bill 191 can not change this.”
MacNeil said the approval processes in the Far North Act clearly states the community that has put the plan together has the choice of final approval.
“Bill 191 signals the first time in Ontario’s history when First Nations’ approval on local community based land use plans is required by law,” MacNeil said.
He added the MNR will work with First Nations in the Far North to determine which areas will be protected under the act and which areas will open to development. But it will be up to First Nations to initiate the land use plans.
“Bill 191 provides the foundation for First Nations and Ontario to work together to develop new approaches to protected areas in the Far North,” he said.
The Shibogama First Nations said in a Sept. 22 press release their concerns were not addressed or reflected in Bill 191 and that they never gave their free, prior and informed consent to Bill 191.
First Nations will exercise own authority
NAN maintains promise of unrest and uncertainty for developers in Far North
“The people of Shibogama will continue to exercise our Aboriginal and treaty rights using the inherent right principles given to us by the Creator,” said Wawakepewin Chief Joshua Frogg. “Any and all land and resources planning will be based on our inherent jurisdiction, our principles and our responsibilities.”
Shibogama stated planning for lands and resources must be done in an open, honest, fair and meaningful manner that will truly meet the social, environmental and economic interests of its people and all Ontarians.
“We will continue to exercise our authority and jurisdiction on our lands and waterways,” said Wunnumin Lake Chief Rod Winnipetonga. “Any canoeists and developers coming into our territory including our waterways without our consent will be evicted under our laws.”
NAN said it would not recognize the act now that is law.
“The passing of Bill 191 today indeed shows how little regard the McGuinty government gives to the concerns of First Nations and other northern Ontarians when it comes to decision making,” Metatawabin said. “It is a disappointing day for all of us who spent tireless hours opposing Bill 191 as our opposition was obviously ignored.”
Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey said the Far North Act is ambitious and exceptional.
“Together we are entering a new era of social prosperity, economic certainty and environmental protection in the Far North,” she said. “It is our responsibility as global citizens to make wise land use decisions for this vast and unique part of the province and the world.”
The government said land use plans are key to developing the Far North, including the region known as the Ring of Fire, which contains one of the world’s largest deposits of chromite, a key ingredient in stainless steel.
The Ontario New Democratic Party voted against Bill 191, stating the Liberals’ decision to ram the Far North Act through the Ontario legislature is a step backward for relations between First Nations and the provincial government.
“The premier went back on his pledge to First Nations leaders that he wouldn’t move ahead with the Far North Act without their consent,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “Despite committing to a new relationship, the McGuinty Liberals think they know better than the First Nations who have lived in the Far North for thousands of years. The attitudes displayed in the pass of this bill were supposed to be the attitudes of the past.”
Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson said the problems with Bill 191 go further than just with First Nations.
“Chambers of Commerce, prospectors and developers, mayors, ... and business owners have all spoken out against the Far North Planning Act. So if everyone is against it, why are they proceeding with it?” Bisson said.
Metatawabin said in a Sept. 22 press release that NAN communities would not compromise their rights as treaty people.
“The law can be passed by the province of Ontario, but this does not promise industry free access to our lands,” Metatawabin said, noting NAN will maintain its former statements that uncertainty and unrest are imminent. “This is not what we want, but given the province of Ontario and the premier’s refusal to honour their commitments to the people of NAN, we have no other choice.
“If there is conflict, it will be up to the province to answer as to why. This government has been given ample opportunity to work with us, but chooses otherwise.”
NAN said its First Nations have not been properly consulted on Bill 191, despite the province of Ontario’s continued attempts to state otherwise.
In August, Nishnawbe Aski Nation chiefs passed a resolution to declare opposition to the Far North Act, launching an anti-Bill 191 campaign.
When I look up at the clear blue sky these days I am missing something. For about a year now during this wretched pandemic I have hardly seen any contrails...