Grassy Narrows has rejected Ministry of Natural Resources plans for more clear-cut logging in their traditional territory.
“Premier Wynne, it is within your power to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at the expense of another generation of Grassy Narrows children,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister in an Oct. 31 open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne. “I call on you to ensure that never again will Ontario attempt to force decisions on our people and our lands.”
The MNR’s Forest Management plan for the Whiskey Jack Forest 2012-2022 is in the final stages of approval with a decision scheduled for Dec. 23. It is currently posted at the ontario.ca/forestplans website.
The community is concerned about the MNR’s plan to clear-cut much of the remaining mature forest in their territory after decades of large-scale industrial logging.
“This document attempts to make plans to clear-cut log the lands that we use to feed our families and practice our culture,” said Grassy Narrows hunter Joseph Fobister. “We cannot allow this. For centuries we have raised our voices to protect our rights and our land. But Ontario and Canada continue to ignore us with devastating consequences for our people.”
The community believes the MNR plan will further erode Aboriginal and treaty rights and the ability of the community to sustain their families and to practice their culture through fishing, hunting, trapping, medicine harvesting, ceremony and healing for all generations.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell called for the provincial government to consult in good faith with Grassy Narrows during a Nov. 7 session in the provincial legislature.
“In 2012, Premier Wynne visited Grassy Narrows, as minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and talked about rebuilding Grassy Narrows’s relationship with Ontario to get it right, yet the exact opposite is happening,” Campbell said. “Grassy Narrows First Nation was not consulted in good faith when the long-term management direction of the Whiskey Jack Forest on their traditional land was developed. MNR plans show that clear-cutting on traditional Grassy Narrows territory will start as early as 2014, despite the community’s strong objections.
“Will the minister uphold his duty, do the right thing and consult with Grassy Narrows to obtain their consent regarding any forestry plans on their national lands?”
MNR Minister David Orazietti said the province is aware of the importance of the Whiskey Jack Forest to the First Nation communities in this area.
“The Ministry is engaged in consultations on the development of a 10-year forest management plan for the Whiskey Jack Forest and have already received input from other First Nations communities in the area such as the Wabaseemoong, Whitefish Bay, Wabauskang, Dalles,”
Orazietti said in a Nov. 8 e-mail statement. “We are committed to working with Grassy Narrows First Nation and value their continued involvement in discussions pertaining to the management of this forest.”
Orazietti said wood from the Whiskey Jack Forest provides economic opportunities for local First Nation communities as well as wood supply to local mills, including a mill owned and operated by a local First Nation member.
“Ontario remains committed to respecting Aboriginal and treaty rights and will continue to develop positive relationships with First Nations leading to meaningful involvement and participation in resource management activities and providing economic opportunities,” Orazietti said. “In addition, the province will continue to engage with the First Nation through the Grassy Narrows-Ontario Working Group to develop strategies for moving forward and collaborating to address priority issues.”
Fobister had earlier questioned a written statement made by Orazietti that was published on Nov. 6 in a local online publication that said: “Under this plan, there are no planned harvest blocks located within the Grassy Narrows’ self-identified traditional land use area.”
“It is time for the minister to clear up the confusion that he has caused with his false statement and to answer once and for all,” Fobister said in a Nov. 7 release. “Will the Wynne government force logging on our community against our will, knowing that logging would release more mercury into our food chain.”
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