First Nations lawsuit aims to protect traditional lands in Ontario

Several Treaty 9 First Nations have filed a lawsuit against the Ontario provincial government to protect their traditional lands.

The suit alleges that the provincial government’s policies have not upheld the rights of Treaty 9 communities to live as they traditionally have. It aims to “stop the consistent and increasing degradation of the boreal forest in their traditional territories”.

The Ontario government has 20 days, from Sept. 30, to file a statement of defence.

The lawsuit lists Chapleau Cree First Nation Chief Keith Corston, Missanabie Cree First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier, and Brunswick House First Nation Chief Renae Vanbuskirk as the plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and their respective communities.

Because their way of life is tied closely to the land and the life on it, the action says that their way of life has been infringed upon by government developments and projects.

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The spraying of pesticides and herbicides in the area and the exemption of forest management planning to the Endangered Species Act are cited as examples of the Ontario government’s overreach.

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“A tipping point has been reached and the plaintiff First Nations’ Treaty rights have been meaningfully diminished,” reads the statement of claim. “The First Nations no longer have access to sufficient undisturbed lands in their respective traditional territories to carry on their way of life and livelihoods.”

According to the document, obtained from Westaway Law Group, the plaintiffs want a declaration that the Ontario government has breached its duty to uphold the Treaty honourably and allow the people there to live traditionally.

It argues this was done by not consulting Treaty 9 communities in the management of their lands, sharing information openly about decisions affecting their land, and permitting industrial work like mining, logging and energy to operate on traditional lands.

The chiefs also want a clear system put in place to measure the costs of the breaches, past and present, an accounting of the funds the industries on Treaty land have brought in, and a fair share of those revenues.

“The plaintiffs assert that protecting the Treaty, Aboriginal, and Charter rights in issue in this case with the declarations and orders sought in this action will help to ensure that Ontario’s approach to managing the forests in northern Ontario is sustainable,” says the statement of claim.

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“Indeed, maintaining the healthy boreal forest required to protect their rights will also benefit all Canadians, and the global community, as forests are known to be valuable carbon sinks that can help to combat climate change.”

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