[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
Ontario's native bands say they will block the government's attempts to allocate areas of the province for mining, logging, hunting and fishing for the next 100 years. The natives say aboriginal and treaty rights of the bands have been ignored by the government's process for discussing how to develop resources in the vast stretches of the province starting at Peterborough in the south and running north of Lakes Huron and Superior. Resource development will be permitted by the bands only if their people, most of whom live in poverty, benefit from the revenue, said Grand Chief Charles Fox of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. It has more than 30,000 people in 50 communities across the northernmost parts of the province.
"We are wallowing in Third World conditions. Our unemployment is 80 per cent. We've lost 160 young people to suicide in 10 years. Our social conditions are deplorable. Half of our communities don't even have water and sewer [facilities]. A number of our communities don't even have a telephone system...We're saying we've had enough of this." Mr. Fox also warned: "If we're going to take whatever it needs to stop development so we can be heard, then we're going to do that - legal, political...We're going to stand up for our rights and we're going to stop development any way that we can."
He was one of six chiefs at a news conference at the provincial legislature who warned that a determined legal, political and civil-disobedience campaign to prevent companies from exploiting Northern Ontario's resources could impede resource development for years. "The present Ontario approach is to ignore treaty and aboriginal rights", said Chief Francis Kavanaugh of Grand Council Treaty Number Three, whose band boycotted the discussions. "The forest industry is trespassing on Indian rights every time it cuts a tree in Ontario." Chief Vernon Root of the Union of Ontario Indians warned that the fight over treaty and aboriginal rights on the issue of resource development could spread into other areas where native bands have complaints about the government.
The Nishnawbe-Aski had been the only Ontario native group participating in the Lands for Life consultation process that the government is using for discussion of the issues in resource development. When the three panels report, the government will use their recommendations to set out plans. But yesterday the Nishnawbe-Aski formally pulled out of the consultations, saying the government had refused to set out aboriginal and treaty rights as a major consideration in planning resource development. A spokesman for Natural Resources Minister John Snobelen said the government is disappointed by the comments at the news conference.
He said Mr. Snobelen will try to get Mr. Fox's representatives to return to the talks by explaining that accommodating aboriginal and treaty rights is an inherent part of planning resource development. The natives' objective, Mr. Fox said, is to obtain 50 per cent of the revenue from resource development. "We're fed up," he said. "We're drawing the line. Resource development has been occurring since 1905 [when the Nishnawbe-Aski signed a treaty guaranteeing them revenue from resource development] and we haven't seen the benefits accrue that should have happened to our first nations communities. "If we have to tie ourselves to trees or lay down in front of tractors, I guess that's a last resort, but we're definitely going to look at that option as well."
Mr. Fox cited the failure of the process to consult individual bands, and said the courts will back the natives' demand that they be consulted on the use of lands they occupy.