12 April 2012
ABORIGINAL JUSTICE: KI celebrates bittersweet victory
by Chris Sabas
On 29 March 2012, the Ontario government paid $3.5 million to mining company God’s Lake Resources (GLR) to walk away from its leases, located on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) lands. Multiple sacred KI graves lie within the claim area. KI had issued an eviction notice to GLR last September.
For KI, one of the largest First Nations communities in the region, it was perhaps a déjà vu moment. Following the 2008 sentencing of six months in prison of six community leaders for protecting their land from mining exploration by Platinex Corp., the province bought out Platinex for $5 million. The “KI 6” served sixty-eight days before a judge released them unconditionally on sentencing appeal.
KI is located approximately 580 km (360 miles) north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and is a fly-in community of pristine boreal forests, waters, and wetlands, within Treaty 9 territory (officially known as the James Bay Treaty). Not only does KI have treaty rights attached directly to its traditional lands, but the community must be consulted in matters that affect its rights and interests.
In 2000, KI declared a moratorium on mining exploration, park creation, and all other Ontario land dispositions. In July 2011, KI proclaimed a Watershed Declaration to protect the Fawn River watershed as well as all the water that flows in and out of Big Trout Lake. It also created a Consultation Protocol, which sets out how KI consent is to be sought before any action affecting KI’s lands and resources. (See www.kilands.org.)
KI broke off talks with the province in November 2011 when Ontario officials could not offer assurances that GLR would not desecrate KI lands with its proposed drill program. Now that GLR is no longer a direct threat, talks could resume, with the goal of creating a unique joint panel tasked with developing creative solutions for KI’s jurisdictional concerns with the province.
“The decision is bittersweet,” said Chief Donny Morris. “KI has a sacred duty under KI law to assert its jurisdiction, care for the land and protect and honour sacred landscapes and graves of our ancestors. That is why we went to jail in the past and that is why we will defend our lands in the future,” he said.
Numerous social justice and environmental organizations have rallied to support KI. While the threat of GLR entry on to KI Territory escalated before the buy-out, KI community members and allies, including CPTers, converged in Toronto on 6 March 2012 at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s International Convention, Trade Show and Investors Exchange-Mining Investment Show. The message from KI has been consistent. “I know today we’re here to say that we [KI] are still against mining; we still say no to mining; we still want to defend our lands; we still want to defend our ancestors on official resting grounds and hunting grounds,” said KI Band Councillor and KI 6 member, Cecilia Begg. “We’re still asking the government to recognize we are a nation and we have a government and we have indigenous laws.”