ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Amplification

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CPTnet
6 June 2014
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE REFLECTION: Amplification

by Michelle Fraser

[Note: the following reflection was adapted for CPTnet from
a longer piece available on the Aboriginal Justice Team’s Tumblr page.]

CPT
takes seriously its mission of listening to marginalized people and speaking their
truth to a wider audience.  For
this reason, our delegation met community members in Grassy Narrows who
represent their community’s interests in negotiations with the Ontario Ministry
of Natural Resources (MNR), logging companies, and before the courts.

Our
host, Andrew Keewatin (Shoon), is building manager and leader of the Trappers’
Centre.  Within the community,
Shoon runs AA meetings and teaches children traditional skills like building
canoes, snowshoes, and drums, filleting fish, and tanning hide to make
moccasins. 

In
recent years the MNR licensed logging companies to clearcut sections of forest
on his land.  Occasionally he has
been able to negotiate with the MNR to preserve bands of forest connecting
water sources or to spare trees that have little commercial value.  But in the end, the MNR decides where
and when logging companies may cut down forests, not the people who have lived
and worked on the land and for generations.

 
  Community member Cheryl Fobister at blockade

When
a logging company constructed a road within kilometers of Grassy Narrows,
disregarding the wishes of the community, the conflict with the Grassy Narrows
community came to a head.  On a
cold December afternoon in 2002, three youth blocked the road by cutting down
nearby trees.  This bold action
brought the people of Grassy Narrows together to form a blockade, an expression
of nonviolent resistance that they had been contemplating for some time.

Among
the countless people that participated in the blockade, Judy Da Silva emerged
as a strong advocate.  Mrs. Da
Silva has watched logging companies enter her Nation’s territory for years,
clearcut vast swathes of forest, and disregard the concerns her community
expressed.  She is a protector of
the forest and of the broader ecosystem on behalf of her children and her
children’s children.  For her,
dispossessing First Nations of their land, refusing to investigate the murder
of 1000 First Nations women and the disappearance of 200 more, poisoning the
English-Wabigoon River system with mercury, and disregarding the wishes of
First Nations peoples for the use of their territory are all connected by a
White settler ideology that values only those things that can be converted into
money.

Concurrent
with the blockade, trappers of Grassy Narrows launched a lawsuit challenging
the right of the Ministry of Natural Resources to issue licenses to logging
companies north of the English River. 
This land was added to Ontario after the signing of Treaty 3, which the
Canadian government uses to justify its dispossession of First Nations.  The Grassy Narrows trappers won the
original court case, which was then appealed by the MNR.  The MNR won the appeal.  The Supreme Court heard the case on 15
May 2014 and the participants are awaiting the court’s final decision.

J.B.
Fobister is a trapper, band member, and community storeowner involved in the lawsuit.
 Mr. Fobister says that the goal of
the lawsuit is to increase the negotiating power that his people have with the
MNR and with logging companies.  His
dream is for his people to be able to exercise authority over decisions that affect
them and their land.

Shoon,
Judy Da Silva, and J.B. Fobister have a vision for the healing of their land
and of their people.  They are
asking for white settler society to listen, to respect their knowledge, and to
honour commitments it has made with the First Nations.  The First Nation of Grassy Narrows is
not asking for white settler charity. 
The First Nation of Grassy Narrows is asking for justice.

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