First Nation says Consultation Laws are a Matter of Community Assertion


Serpent River First Nation Release – Canada NewsWire –

Date of publication: 
21 September 2011

SERPENT RIVER FIRST NATION – A push towards a consultation law is high on the agenda of a First Nation Council as it winds down a 2-year set of priorities in the next two months.

On Monday night Serpent River First Nation Chief and Council unanimously endorsed the codification of a Consultation Law and the development of a Free, Prior and Informed Consent Policy Framework.

Located on the northern shores of Lake Huron, the territory of Serpent River is the homeland to over 12 hundred Anishnabek and their families. Approximately thirty percent of the community’s members live on the reserve lands; the remaining members live in various parts of Ontario and across the country and the US. The peninsula of reserve lands was once assessed and staked for copper mining potential prior to the making of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.

Elected Chief of the community Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini says a First Nation Consultation Law is important for a wide list of reasons. The main reason for the First Nation advancing this next step is said by the Chief to be one of “Nation-Building.”

Lands and resource policies of both the federal and provincial governments over the last two hundred years focused primarily on exploitation. For instance, Ontario’s forestry industry at the turn of the 20th century was based solely on access, harvest, and a tenure system that had no concern or consideration for Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Today, conflict continues to plague relationships between First Nation and non-First Nation jurisdictions. This problem has historically been related to broken treaties and a controversial and contested discretion that treaties left with the Crown. The Chief says that, “this confusion and power imbalance stemming from the treaty relationship can only be corrected by a truly defined and shared jurisdiction.”

The First Nation has spent the last several years attempting to work closely with other governments after the Taku, Haida and Mikisew Cree decisions, which defined a fair and just way to assess Aboriginal consultation rights. Day says that because of modern complexities of the environmental, economic and overlapping interests, something must be done to directly formalize the jurisdiction of the First Nation.

“We’ve come to a critical time in the history of self-government of our community. We must leave a much needed jurisdictional fabric for our children that defines our laws on Consultation; Accommodation and Free, Prior and Informed Consent,” explains the Chief. “We have recently committed to a community comprehensive plan for the next 25 years in Serpent River. This is one of the main pieces of our long-term plan – without it we are simply going to continue to march to the tune of another government’s law.”

Whether its mining, or other proposed developments within the traditional territory such as cottage lot development, renewable energy, or transportation infrastructure, First Nations continue to be tested by an overflow of letters and technical documents for their review. This is often where the breakdown occurs. The Crown is obligated to provide information – while First Nations are not equipped to make informed decisions. First Nation Treaty leaders are saying ‘enough is enough.’

Day adds, “Just as other governments have a fixed regulatory framework that collects revenue for the fuelling of government machinery, this law will also look at the cost of our requirements in governing our authority. There simply is a cost of doing business in the territory – it’s time both Crown governments and industry pay up so that shared jurisdiction can proceed.”

The Chief indicated now that the decision has been made to produce a formal and codified framework on access to resources within the territory, government and industry as well as other First Nations must accept interim processes that are principled and based on free, prior and informed consent, cooperation, shared information and negotiation.

“Moving into the future, we as First Nations continue to stand firm on the protection and preservation of lands of significance. Canada and Ontario continue to thirst for our lands for development purposes. We must make significant steps forward in looking at cooperation and shared jurisdiction; development is a matter of community assertion. Third parties will now have to accept our laws and our policies,” concludes the Serpent River Chief.