Aerial view of KI land. Photo: Allan Lissner

Without consent or consultation, God’s Lake Resources, a junior gold exploration company, trespassed by exploring on Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) lands. God’s Lake is now threatening to drill on sacred KI burial area. KI is saying NO to God’s Lake Resources, just as the community opposed mining exploration by Platinex in 2008 and De Beers in 2010.

Not only is it repeatedly clear that the Canadian government excels at ignoring Indigenous communities’ right to say NO, but it criminalizes them for their opposition to rights infringements.

Ontario continues to refute Native land rights in several ways. Like many other Indigenous communities exercising their sovereignty, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug — a fly-in Oji-Cree community nearly 600 km north of Thunder Bay — was told by Ontario courts in 2006 that they would be forced to negotiate with Platinex. The only allowed outcome of this “negotiation” was a Platinex drilling program, which the KI community knows would contaminate both their drinking water and one of their food staples: fishing.

The forced negotiation is in direct violation of treaty rights and with KI’s inherent right to refuse extractive industries on their traditional lands, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet on March 17, 2008, Chief Donny Morris and five other community members were jailed for opposing mining development on their nation’s territory.

The jailed KI leaders were released by an appeals court after concentrated grassroots support and a massive public outcry. The McGuinty government doled out $5 million to settle with Platinex, after which the province drafted the Far North Act, promising that no new mines would be drilled in the Far North without First Nations consent. Despite this, the Ontario Mining Act continues to enable mining companies like God’s Lake Resources to stake claims without consent on First Nations lands. These latest broken promises are only among the more recent of countless holding up a colonial project.

This colonial project also involves criminalizing those who speak out against Canada’s political and financial support for the destruction of the environment for corporate profit. In 2008, the same year as KI leaders were jailed, Ardoch Algonquin community leader Bob Lovelace was sent to prison when his community said NO to a uranium mine on their territory.

First, the government of Ontario creates a problem by wrongfully viewing the treaties as a land-surrender and imposing unjust and archaic mining acts on Indigenous lands, then the government of Canada criminalizes any First Nations who oppose the act or offer another view of the treaty relationship.

Apart from the occasions when Indigenous leaders are imprisoned, the Canadian government treats Indigenous communities as “terrorists.” In early 2007, the government of Canada created a wide-ranging surveillance network to monitor 18 First Nations regions identified as “communities of concern,” according to RCMP documents. In addition to KI and Ardoch, the list includes other communities in Ontario such as Grassy Narrows, Six Nations and Tyendinaga. These communities boldly opposed mining, housing development, and logging on their territories through road and railway blockades, when the Ontario government would not listen any other way.

Surveillance of these First Nations communities was conducted by the Aboriginal Joint Intelligence Group (JIG), run by the RCMP’s Criminal Intelligence branch as well as the RCMP’s National Security Criminals Investigations, which operate nation-wide to deal with “threats to national security and criminal extremism and terrorism.” While the Aboriginal JIG was dismantled in 2010, the RCMP cannot confirm that RCMP divisions are not currently performing its same activities under another name.

The 2009 annual Strategic Intelligence Report states: “Mining, oil-drilling, logging, garbage dumps, construction of dams, highways, and expanding the industries such as the oil sands can produce permanent impacts on the land, resources and people.” The report itself indicates that the government is well aware that it is the environmental destruction resulting from their policies and actions that incites confrontations with Indigenous communities. These are the same communities that the government of Canada criminalizes and places under surveillance, rather than addressing the violations of Indigenous rights which sparked protest in the first place.

Photo: Laura Lepper

On July 5, 2011, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug voted overwhelmingly in favour of protecting their entire watershed from all industrial activity by approving the KI Watershed Declaration and the KI Consultation Protocol. The KI Watershed Declaration states: “We declare all waters that flow into and out of Big Trout Lake, and all lands whose waters flow into those lakes, rivers, and wetlands, to be completely protected through our continued care under KI’s authority, laws and protocols… No industrial uses, or other uses which disrupt, poison, or otherwise harm our relationship to these lands and waters will be permitted.”

The KI Consultation Protocol spells out clearly for government and industry the ways in which the KI nation will exercise their inherent Indigenous land rights. Activities affecting KI’s lands and resources will only proceed with KI’s prior and informed consent. Decisions will then occur only according to KI’s laws and decision-making processes. This Protocol states how, when, and why KI will oppose activities on their land.

The KI Watershed Declaration includes a call to action for KI’s supporters: “We call on our supporters to recognize and respect this declaration. We call on you to fulfill your duty as treaty people to take action, under our direction, to hold your governments accountable to respecting this declaration. Please stand with us as we assert and implement our Indigenous Laws and responsibilities. Together we can protect this sacred water for all people, all animals, all plants and all life.”

The strength of KI resistance against Platinex in 2008 resulted in a community victory and the outpouring of support for exercising their sovereignty in saying no to Platinex. While Ontario and Canada try to say NO to Native land rights with broken promises, dead-end negotiations, and prison, we as treaty people must recognize and actively support the Indigenous peoples who have the legitimate grounds say NO in the first place. Support KI!

Photo: Laura Lepper

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Aerial view of KI land. Photo: Allan Lissner