On 17 January, Chief Jeffrey Copenace of the Ojibways of Onigaming signed a Mutual Cooperation Protocol, joining Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows), Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI, or Big Trout Lake First Nation), Wapekeka, Neskantaga and Muskrat Dam First Nations as members of the Land Defense Alliance. The alliance aims to protect their lands and waters in the face of mounting concerns of encroachment on their territories by mining exploration companies, which have filed thousands of claims encouraged by the Ontario (Canada) government’s support for mining expansion.
Jeffrey Copenace posted on social media,
It is an agreement to commit to defend and protect young Anishinaabe lives, our lands and our waters. […]
Today we are losing more and more young First Nations lives unnecessarily to suicide, mental wellness, drugs, addictions, self-harm and other tragic deaths. All the while, government and industry are accelerating the destruction of our lands and waters with no respect for Anishinaabe lives, Treaty Rights or Inherent Rights.
In the case of Onigaming, our drinking water is being threatened by corporations like First Mining Gold, who are disrespecting our Treaty Rights, while being encouraged by Canada and Ontario. As we continue to face funeral after funeral and constant illnesses, we are unable to respond due to our State of Emergency.
It is time for all First Nations leaders to take a stand now together. Or we will continue to lose our young people, our lands and waters – which are now also under threat of nuclear waste being buried here in Treaty #3.
I am proud to be here with the support of our Chief and Council. And with the direction that I have received from our Elders and Youth to fight for our drinking waters at all costs.
If you are not going [to] help save our lives, then you cannot have access to the lands and waters.
The Land Alliance welcomes this new membership in growing solidarity to address the ongoing issues facing Indigenous Nations and lands. “Our very existence is under attack,” said Chief Moonias of Neskantaga. “We need to rise as nations and stand together against colonialism and oppression to defend our lands and our ways of life for future generations. We do that by working together and uniting as nations.”
Continuing the Land Alliance meeting, leadership highlighted the unnecessary loss of life within Nations due to a lack of mental health care resulting in drug epidemics and youth suicide. Between December 2023 and January 2024, 11 members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug community passed away. Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows highlighted the systematic state neglect facing their communities as he issued an Emergency Declaration two weeks ago and still has yet to receive a response from the Ontario or Canadian governments. “Our young people are struggling and have lost their connection to the land,” Chief Turtle noted.
Join CPT – Turtle Island Solidarity Network in praying for a proper, timely, and constructive response from the Canadian government and a future of healthy land and healthy people for the Indigenous communities of so-called northern Ontario.