As the days get warmer and longer, the water flows powerfully, free once again from the glittering snow-covered landscape that have contained it to a mere gurgle and trickle under the thin ice cover during the past winter months in Noopemig and elsewhere, where nature is allowed to run freely as it is meant to be. While having had to compensate a few times after thawing from a mild winter, Noopemig and its waters provide what it does best – new life and freedom as it wakes up to share all its majesty and glory.
While a mild winter struggled to compensate for the impacts of progress attributed to climate change, the economic engine continues to chug along its way into the Far North where the First Peoples who live on and off the land continue to call for a say into activities that could have a drastic impact on their lives, culture and traditional lands.
Before 2011 ended, the Wildlands League suggested that “It is time for a fundamental re-think of the relationship between major industrial players in the North, our governments and affected First Nations communities.” This was based on what was happening in Attawapiskat where community members were living in tent frames in the freezing temperatures of a northern winter while a diamond mine extracts minerals and generates millions from Attawapiskat’s traditional territory.
In early 2012, federal Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver stated that environmental and other “radical groups” were trying to undermine the Canadian economy by blocking trade saying the groups “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” to delay or kill good projects.
On April 17, 2012, the Harper government announced that they will recognize provincial reviews providing they meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as environmental projects are moved to a “one project, one review” policy with “fixed timelines” for major economic projects.
Minister Oliver says that both levels of government do not have the resources to do “separate reviews of the same project.” The First Peoples sees the federal streamlining of the environmental review process as the latest effort to undermine First Nations rights when it comes to industrial development on their traditional lands. Minister Oliver stated, “We need to tap into the tremendous appetite for resources in the world’s dynamic emerging economies – resources we have in abundance.”
Upon announcing a moratorium on KI lands in 2001, KI stated, “Our resources have been taken from us and we have not benefited from what has been extracted from our land to be sold to the rest of the world…(economic development) must be done in a manner where our natural environment is not destroyed, and mitigation practices which are consistent with our beliefs and practices must be in place.”
On July 5, 2011, eighty-two years after the adhesion to Treaty # 9 was signed at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) the membership passed the KI Water Declaration, protecting the entire watershed from industrial development under KI authority, laws and protocols. This and another document received overwhelming support in a community referendum to become part of KI’s Indigenous laws.
These laws are based on Kanawayadan D’aaki, the ultimate law which binds Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug to the sacred duty and responsibility to protect and look after the land. This sacred duty is provided to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug by Keeshaymanitou, the creator who placed KI on this chosen land.
The Watershed Declaration covers a vast 13,025 square kilometers of lakes, rivers, forests and wetlands in the KI Homeland, including the 661 square kilometer Kitchenuhmaykoosib Lake, which has a buffer zone around the lake which is excluded from all and any development.
Under the Declaration, all waters that flow in and out of Kitchenuhmaykoosib and all lands whose waters flow from those lakes, rivers and wetlands (the entire watershed) are deemed to be protected under KI authority.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug has protected the lands and waters in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki before which resulted in the incarceration of a majority of it’s leadership, who serve two (2) months of a six (6) month sentence, but released upon appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled that “incarceration should be the last resort” and directed the Crown to negotiate in good faith to reconcile the Aboriginal interests with competing interests.
Specifically, the decision directed the Crown to consult, accommodate and negotiate in good faith in a serious attempt to resolve and reconcile Aboriginal interests with competing private interests whenever these interests collide.
Upon introducing reforms to the Mining Act, Premier Dalton McGuinty made the following statement – “The Ontario Government believes exploration and mine development should only take place following early consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal communities.”
Leadership in Northern Ontario is now warning that expediting environmental scrutiny on major developments and “fast-tracking projects,” like the Ring Of Fire without recognizing the rights and interests of the First Peoples can only result in “direct confrontation on the ground.”
It appears that the stage has been set and the environment is ripe for accelerated industrial development with nothing more than a minimal or cursory glance at environmental processes that keep the lands and waters healthy for all.
Dr. David Suzuki on Science Matters says that “Eliminating environmental reviews altogether, shifting responsibility to the provinces, and severely cutting back on staff and agencies are not ways to make processes more efficient; they’re ways to accelerate major projects, making the short-term interests of industry a higher priority than protecting the air, land and water we all need to stay healthy.”
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug has taken strong actions to protect Kitchenuhmaykoosib Aaki and will likely continue to do so. While KI are possibly lumped into the other “radical groups” category as defined by the Canadian government, KI is no stranger to being called names in the effort to justify access to lands and resources without any return or for the protection of the environment. If reports of RCMP surveillance are any indication, KI efforts to protect its position that “Water is the source of life and water connects all things in the sacred web of life” will continue to be challenging but with glowing hearts we’ll continue to see the rise of the True North strong and free!
As legislation and policy is prepared to pave the way for accelerated development by the Canadian government, Noopemig meanwhile continues to deliver life-giving nutrients by peacefully providing water to all life forms to ensure all life flourishes while the country continues to sing – God keep our land glorious and free!