During a recent dialogue between Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer and the Chiefs and Grand Chiefs of Nishnawbe Aki Nation (NAN) the Minister received an earful.
Wynne Government’s climate change bill passed a few days ago and a century-old concern about the lack of a land base for the Beaverhouse First Nation of North Eastern Ontario that was promised in 1905 were among the issues raised at the dialogue, which took place at the Days Inn in Timmins, Ontario.
“I wish to recognize the long history of First Nations peoples in Ontario and show them respect to them today,” Minister Zimmer told the Chiefs.
Zimmer acknowledged the crisis of youth suicide in Attawapiskat and other communities and noted that Ontario has promised $2 million towards a Youth Regional Coordination Unit proposed by Mushkegowuk Council to coordinate medical staff, mental health teams and social workers to the community.
“That is why the Ontario government is pledging $1.3 million to help Aboriginal health centres,” he added.
Zimmer pointed to the Memorandum of Understanding between NAN chiefs and the provincial government.
“We need to have an understanding of past wrongs and make a commitment to change,” he said. “This can only happen by honouring our treaty relations and moving forward with our MOU [Memorandum of Understanding].”
Zimmer also spoke at length about the irony that Ontario and Canada, renowned around the world for its large supply of fresh water, should have so many First Nations who have had polluted waters some for decades.
But the Minister’s statement was met with swift criticism first by Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of Mushkegowuk Council and then followed by Chief Marcia Brown of the landless Beaverhouse First Nation. Three other chiefs also expressed their frustration with both the federal and provincial government
“Yesterday an announcement was made to move forward on legislation on climate change and carbon sink which your government claimed had extensive consultation with First Nations,” said an impassioned Jonathan Solomon.
“And I can honestly say that I was not part of that consultation on that legislation,” he added. “That is why I say I have been betrayed.”
“In your opening remarks you talk about respect," the Grand Chief said.
“That (announcing the Climate Change Bill in the Legislature) is not respect,“ he added.
“We signed an MOU in November, 2015, and in that MOU it talked about Nation to Nation,” Grand Chief Solomon declared, “a respectful relationship, but yet this is still not happening,”
For the statement on relations with aboriginal people by the Wynne government please click here
“What happened to the commitment to prior consent of the people of the Mushkegowuk, the Cree People of James Bay? - You went behind our backs,” Grand Chief Solomon declared.
“Northern Ontario is the second largest carbon sink hole in the world,” said Solomon. ”And it is not only going to be a $1-billion-dollar industry, he said.
“But a trillion industry,” he asserted. "And we don’t know how my people will be sharing the revenue that this trillion-dollar industry will be generating.”
Minister Zimmer thanked Grand Chief Solomon for his very frank, pointed comments.
“We started the discussion and I said everyone here should express exactly what they felt,” noted the minister. “Thank you for your candor.”
“The bill we introduced the other day -- you are quite correct we have to do something because of all the things that are impacted by climate change -- think of the winter road situation,” Zimmer said.
“But the real work is in the development of the action plan,” he said.
“We will be asking you what are the best actions,” he added. “We will be taking it to the First Nations and all 13 million residents of Ontario.”
Zimmer moved to the discussion of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
“The Harper government would not accept the UNDRIP,” he said. “Last Tuesday I was at the UN in New York with Federal Minister of Indian Affairs Carolyn Bennett. “
“She made it crystal clear the federal government would adopt and implement UNDRIP,” he said.
Citing UNDRIP article 19 requiring prior consent before legislation affecting them or their lands is passed, Solomon refuted Zimmer’s assertion.
“That is my point,” Solomon said. “This didn’t happen with the climate change bill.”
“We think that the Harper and Harris years were terrible,” he said, “But yet it is still going down the wrong path.”
Next: Chief of Beaverhouse First Nation still waiting for land promise of 1905