Indigenous people defending their land and our environment

Tuesday 27 May 2008, by Judy REBICK

For the last two weeks in May, Toronto will be the centre of an historic battle of Indigneous people across the Americas to defend their land rights against mining and forestry companies.

On May 26, hundreds of Indigenous people from Northern and Eastern Ontario will travel to Toronto on buses and by foot to hold four days of sacred ceremonies on the grounds of Queen’s Park, the seat of the provincial government, to demand that the government respect their right to say no to mining and forestry on their traditional lands. A broad range of supporters from unions to environmental and church groups will welcome them with a rally on May 26.

Two of the three communities sponsoring the events have leaders in jail for contempt of court because they refused drilling on their land without permission. Retired Algonquin chief and university professor Bob Lovelace was sentenced to six months in jail three months ago.
Six leaders from the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, known as the KI Six, were also thrown in jail for peacefully opposing mineral exploration on their lands in the Boreal Forest (located 600km north of Thunder Bay). Cecilia Begg, Head Councillor from KI, is a grandmother and just spent her 60th birthday in jail.

In an interview with Indian Country Today Bob Lovelace said: “You know, the longer I sit in here, and the longer I think about these things, it irks me that really great minds of this generation have been wasted and just squandered on a relationship where colonialism runs the show.” He began a hunger strike to protest his jailing on May 16.
While jailing of Indigenous activists is nothing new, this is the first time that a Chief In Council, the official leader of the community as recognized by the Indian Act, has been jailed for following the laws protecting their rights. There are rulings at both the Supreme Court of Canada and the BC Court of Appeals affirming the right of First Nations to be consulted before industrial development on their land.

The excuse given by the Ontario government is the archaic Mining Act that places industrial development over everything. Mining companies are given automatic license to explore wherever they want without First Nations approval, without an environmental assessment, without even the permission of the owners of private property.

Over a half-million square kilometres of mineral claims are currently staked across Canada’s Boreal Forest under a "free entry" tenure system implemented 150 years ago during the Klondike gold rush era. Under the free entry system, mineral rights are acquired automatically without consideration of other land-use priorities or the prior and informed consent of affected Aboriginal people. Ten per cent of Canada’s vast Boreal Forest has already been staked for mining. While Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he would amend the mining act, there has been no concrete action from the government to have the Aboriginal leaders released by issuing a moratorium on mining on their lands.

Grassy Narrows, who have been waging a decades long battle to protect their land from clear cutting and their water from mercury poisoning are joining the other two communities in sponsoring the rally and sleepover. Well known Mohawk activist Shawn Brandt along with 15 of his fellow activists have been charged with more than 50 criminal charges for a blockade to stop a quarry on their traditional lands. Supporters of Tyendinega have been building support for the Toronto events as well

Last week, Aboriginal groups from Central and South America came to Toronto to protest at the Annual General meetings of Goldcorp,. Sergio Campusano, Chief of the Pueblo Diaguita Huascoaltinos, indigenous people of Chile who are also resisting environmental devastation and human rights violations at the hands of Canadian gold mining corporations on their lands was at the protest along with indigenous groups from Guatemala and Honduras.

The Pascua Lama mine, threatens the water supply for 100,000 farmers at the drought-ravaged border of Chile and Argentina. The Diaguita community has pressed charges against the Chilean State for its complicity with these corporations, including a notice to appeal before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The fight of all these Indigenous communities North and South is not only for survival and human rights, but also to preserve the living systems of the Earth, which they regard as sacred.

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