Treaty 3 says province must not forget treaty framework - FORESTRY DEBATE RESUMES

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Treaty 3 Grand Chief Diane Kelly moved to assert aboriginal rights in area forests as chiefs met at Wauzhushk Onigum (Rat Portage) over the weekend.

"We expect that, through various discussions with the province of Ontario, that they will wake up from their slumber," Kelly said in a prepared statement.

"They will realize that it is the treaty framework that will provide economic benefits for all of our communities in Northwestern Ontario, and forgetting this framework is not only detrimental to Treaty 3 communities, but also to our local neighbours in the municipalities and industry," she continued

In the accompanying position paper, the grand chief made specific mention of the ongoing dispute between Grassy Narrows and the province of Ontario over the Whiskey Jack, where a roadblock has been in place for more than seven years.

Their position paper comes as Natural Resources is seeking input into forest management plans, particularly for the Whiskey Jack Forest, as well as accepting applications for the wood supply competitive process.
The roadblock at Slant Lake has been in place since December 2002.  In the fall of 2007, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci was assigned to help facilitate negotiations between the community and the province. He played an instrumental role in settling the residential school compensation agreement.

A group of trappers are currently challenging the province's authority to manage forests under the treaty at the Ontario Court of Appeal, in a case where the interpretation of aboriginal rights under Treaty 3 is at the core of 75 days of hearings.

In recent weeks, iLevel in Kenora has been ramping up its production, but Weyerhaeuser has made it clear it is not challenging the roadblock that blocks the Whiskey Jack. Similarly, Kenora Forest Products has expressed hope it will be able to restart their mill this spring, but management emphasized their plans didn't hinge on access to the Whiskey Jack.

When the previous management plan expired last spring, the contingency plan created included 27 clearcuts in 2010, including 17 that will be more than 260 hectares in size.

"Any new clearcutting on Grassy Narrows Territory risks re-igniting a full blown conflict, including renewed boycott
campaigns," said David Sone of Earthroots, an environmental group based out of Toronto.

"The only path forward is one built on full respect for the land rights of First Nations, and for the forests that provide us with clean air and water. Why squander this opportunity for reconciliation to satisfy another cut-and-run corporate giant?" he asked.

A boycott campaign in the United States has pushed companies to examine more closely where their wood products come from and how they're produced. in the winter of 2008, OfficeMax representatives confirmed they had supported the creation of talks between the province and the First Nation, under the guidance of Iacobucci.

However, legal counsel for Grassy Narrows, Kate Kempton, said Monday she was aware of a continuing interest in logging within the Whiskey Jack, but emphasized neither the community nor the province had given approval for cutting in these areas.

In pre-budget submissions to the province, the City of Kenora has made it plain that a resolution of the dispute over the Whiskey Jack is important to its plans for an economic recovery. For several years now, council has also supported the Common Ground process, which is based on the treaty relationship with Treaty 3 communities.

The original agreement between Whitedog and Weyerhaeuser regarding its Kenora plant dates back to 2000. The community recently signed an agreement with Moncrief for the construction of modular homes under the Wincrief brand.

The region has also had a number of forestry cooperatives emerge, such as the Two Feathers project and the Whitefeather initiative at Pikangikum, not to mention mining agreements between industry and
First Nations.

Residents at Grassy Narrows and Whitedog had their commercial and recreational fishing wiped out by mercury contamination, which has also left a legacy of medical problems associated with mercury poisoning. A 1986 compensation agreement was meant to help these communities deal with the long-standing impacts.

When ancestors from Grassy lived off the land, they were able to hunt, fish, harvest wild rice and collect berries for sustenance in what's defined as their traditional territory. These traditional lands have been given some protection in some recent court decisions, leading to a re-examination of resource development in Ontario.