Wednesday, April 30, 2008

First Nation should have right to say no, says indigenous man

First Nation should have right to say no, says indigenous man

April 28, 2008 — By Joseph Quesnel

TORONTO — As the Ontario government looks to revise antiquated mining laws that neglect First Nations land rights, one leader is warning that simmering frustration in many aboriginal communities could lead to another summer of unrest.

"Because of the situation with the First Nation youth, they're losing hope,'' Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief John Beaucage said Wednesday.

"If they have nothing to lose, then they could erupt into any kind of violence or protest.

"Frustrated youth can become a very powerful force.''

Beaucage made the comments shortly after speaking to demonstrators at Queen's Park who gathered to protest the jailing of six aboriginal activists last month.

Hundreds of people, including aboriginal leaders and opposition politicians, rallied in a show of solidarity with the jailed members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation.

The KI community members, including Chief Donny Morris and Deputy Chief Jack MacKay, were jailed last month after they ignored a court order to stay off disputed land about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

A court injunction gave Toronto-based junior mining company Platinex Inc. authority to drill on the land, which the KI say is their own.

Wednesday's protest came a day after the Ontario government awarded more than 29,000 hectares of new land to Platinex Inc., which has also launched a $10-million lawsuit against the KI.

Beaucage said these newly granted mining lands fall alongside or within at least five northern Ontario First Nations.

He said the announcement is "completely inappropriate,'' especially in light of the provincial government's stated commitment to redraw the Mining Act.

"The Mining Act is over 150 years old and it's completely archaic,'' Beaucage said, adding that when the Mining Act was introduced in the Ontario legislature, many treaties had yet to be signed.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday that provincial mining laws, which are at least 80 years old, have become a ``major irritant'' for many communities, mainly because the laws allow a company to prospect land without notice.

"That's something that's not really in keeping with our 21st-century standards,'' McGuinty said.

"We want to take a look at the best way to address that.''

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the newly granted exploration lands are adjacent to Webequie First Nation, Marten Falls First Nation, Fort Hope First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation and Gull Bay First Nation.

He said this "sends a chilling message to First Nations across the north,'' who are saying the government puts mining rights ahead of human rights.

An appeal for the jailed KI members will be held in Toronto on May 28 — the day before this year's planned aboriginal day of action.

Protesters also plan to pitch a "tent city'' at Queen's Park from May 26 to 28.

Along with sporadic blockades across the province, last summer's aboriginal day of action also saw activists shut down Highway 401, snarling traffic on Canada's busiest highway.

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