Leaders of Grassy Narrows First Nation are declaring a legal victory after a decade-long battle with the province regarding clear-cutting on its traditional territory.
Ontario’s Superior Court ruled Aug. 16 that the province cannot issue timbre or logging permits without the consultation of the community as doing so would infringe on federal treaty promises protecting Aboriginal rights in hunting, fishing and trapping.
The ruling comes after an 11-year legal battle between the First Nation and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) after the community claimed that MNR’s permission of industrial logging on traditional lands violated its 1873 treaty agreement with the federal government.
Joseph Fobister, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he was “overwhelmed with excitement” upon hearing the news.
He said the ruling means the community must be notified and provide their consent for any logging activity taking place.
“We’ll have the power to have a say and limit logging on our territory,” he said.
Justice Mary Sanderson considered the decision for a year after hearing arguments from both sides from September 2009 until May 2010. In her 300-page ruling, she said the federal government had promised to help protect their rights but failed to do so for many years.
The ruling did not issue any injunctions or make any findings of fault against the province. More legal arguments are expected in the coming weeks over injunctions to prevent further logging.
There will also be an assessment to measure the impact clear-cutting has had on the forest, on animals and the people of Grassy Narrows.
Fobister continues to hunt and trap in his traditional territory.
Unfortunately, the years of clear-cutting have taken its toll, he said, and there’s not as much wildlife as there used to be.
“We’re hopeful that the forests will re-grow and we can resume our harvesting,” he said.
Fobister said they expect the province to appeal, but “we’re confident (the decision will be upheld).”
Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo welcomed the decision.
“We sincerely hope the outcome of this case will lead to a new relationship based on mutual respect and an end to the unnecessary conflicts that have cause anguish and suffering to the citizens of Grassy Narrows and other impacted First Nations communities,” he said in a press release.
The northwestern Ontario community of about 800 residents has been blockading roads leading into its territory since December 2002.
In 2006, the province was ordered to pay the First Nation’s legal fees. In 2008,
AbitibiBowater withdrew its logging activity in the area. Little or no clear-cutting has occurred since then.
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