Several First Nations from Treaty 9 territory, which covers about 2/3 of Ontario from Timmins north, are launching a historic case in Ontario court against the federal and provincial governments. The case is a head-on challenge to the Crown governments’ purported unilateral jurisdiction and decision-making control throughout Treaty 9 Territory.
The case says that the actual Treaty agreed to by the First Nations and the Crown was that First Nations would retain their decision-making governance over the lands and resources, and that the Crown governments would have some governance rights but not the right to take over. What was agreed to was co-jurisdiction, or parallel consent; both First Nations and the Crown have to consent to developments and activities on the Treaty 9 lands.
“Back when Treaty 9 was signed, Canada and Ontario made a written text of Treaty 9 on their own, in their headquarters, before ever talking to us First Nations. They then came to talk to us and made promises and commitments to us orally that we agreed to. This oral agreement is not the written text. After they got us to sign, the Crown held out the written text – which we never agreed to – as the treaty. It never was the actual Treaty and is not now,” says Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Sylvia Koostachin Metatawabin.
“The Treaty we entered was to share mutual benefits with the settlers; agreeing to share the land and resources. We did not agree to, nor did we have a frame of reference to understand, the Crown’s colonial, racist and oppressive intentions tied to the treaty,” says Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias. “Treaty 9 was not a surrender treaty. Even throughout the Crown’s systematic genocide of our people, we never gave up our sovereignty or jurisdiction. The Crown’s current understanding on Treaty no. 9 continues to be a tool of racism and oppression. We never agreed to this.”
“The biggest tragedy of colonialism is not that people came and settled here on our lands. It is not even that their governments, the Crown, took some of our lands. It is that the Crown tried to take over all of it,” says Chief June Black of Apitipi Anicinapek Nation. “We are peoples and nations. We have our laws. We have our lands. We allowed entry onto our lands and use of our lands. But only on the basis that the lands themselves and authority to manage how they are used, was to be shared. Not subjugated.”
“Nothing has impacted our First Nation’s history as profoundly as the taking over by the Crown. Our people agreed to work together, to share in peace and friendship… but were robbed of dignity, livelihoods, our sense of self, and ultimately over 100 years of subjugation. We have been attacked culturally and spiritually in attempts to erase our identity through an imposed foreign system and laws designed to remove us from the land. But we have never given up, we are survivors of horrendous abuse, and many of us have reclaimed power over our colonizers by walking in forgiveness and newfound healing and strength. We are now ready to make this challenge against unilateral Crown control,” says Solomon Atlookan, Chief of Eabametoong First Nation. “There is no going back. The truth of our real Treaty is becoming known and will change things for us and the coming generation.”
“We are putting Ontario and Canada on notice. No more development – mining, forestry, hydro or any other similar activities without our consent,” says the Chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Donny Morris. “Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug never ceded or surrendered its jurisdiction. We retain jurisdiction and decision-making control over our traditional territories. The real Treaty guaranteed this. If the Crown is ready to honour the real Treaty, we are willing to sit down with the Crown and negotiate how decision-making will happen in Treaty 9 Territory. We invite the Crown to take this step with us. Will you Canada? Will you Ontario?”
This case is being handled by Indigenous rights law firm Woodward and Co. Lawyers LLP with senior counsel Kate Kempton taking the lead.
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