Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario First Nations Prepared to Lay Down Their Lives to Protect Lands: Chiefs

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario First Nations Prepared to Lay Down Their Lives to Protect Lands: Chiefs

Article excerpt

We're prepared to die to protect lands:chiefs

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TORONTO - Aboriginal people in Ontario are prepared to lay down their lives to protect their traditional lands from any unwanted development, a group of First Nations chiefs said Tuesday.

Five aboriginal chiefs served notice on the Ontario and federal governments, developers and the public that they'll assert their treaty rights over their traditional territory and ancestral lands.

That includes the rights to natural resources -- such as fish, trees, mines and water-- deriving benefit from those resources and the conditions under which other groups may access or use them, which must be consistent with their traditional laws, said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.

"All those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent," he said.

"We will take appropriate steps to enforce these assertions."

Tuesday's declaration follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in late June which awarded 1,700 square kilometres of territory to British Columbia's Tsilhqot'in First Nation, providing long-awaited clarification on how to prove aboriginal title.

The ruling also formally acknowledged the legitimacy of indigenous land claims to wider territory beyond individual settlement sites.

But in a separate decision a few weeks later, the court upheld the Ontario government's power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation's traditional lands. Grassy Narrows is different from the Tsilhqot'in decision because it involves treaty land, not aboriginal title.

Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because treaty promises were made with the federal Crown.

The high court ruled that the province doesn't need the federal government's permission to allow forestry and mining activity under an 1873 treaty that ceded large swaths of Ontario and Manitoba to the federal government.

The Ontario chiefs who spoke out on Tuesday said the provincial and federal governments haven't respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which gives First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. …

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