Activist, writer, and professor Judy Rebick has long been a fighter for social justice. Still, when she spoke at Ryerson University in Toronto last Tuesday about the struggles of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), she muses about how she can still be surprised when the government breaks its own laws.
Sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Students, the Council of Canadians, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Earthroots, concerned members of the public gathered hear about how the Government of Ontario is making and breaking promises to the northern community of KI.
600km north of Thunder Bay, KI has a population of approximately 1,200. The reserve of winding rivers and lush forests covers 300 square kilometres and residents speak English and Obj-Cree. Addressing the crowded room, KI Chief Donny Morris, KI spokesperson John Cutfeet, and Judy Rebick shared the past struggles with mineral exploration the community has endured.
Three years ago, in the same room at Ryerson, indigenous activists and others in solidarity gathered to rally around the “KI 6,” who had been incarcerated for contempt of court. These community members were jailed for preventing Platinex, a Canadian
gold gold, platinum, and precious metals mining exploration company, access to their lands despite a court order.
Despite putting the struggle against Platinex behind them, KI land is being explored and prospected without consultation or consent again, this time by junior gold exploration company, God’s Lake Resources.
Rebick’s frustrations are well founded. After the four-year battle with Platinex, the Government of Ontario issued a new Mining Act in 2008. This legislation required companies to consult with First Nations communities before staking mining claims on their territories. The Government of Ontario has now broken its own law by giving God’s Lake Resources an exploration permit.
Not only is the prospected land on KI territory, the site chosen by the company is home to traditional burial grounds. Resource exploration in that area is also forbidden under the Watershed Declaration that the KI community adopted in a referendum. This declaration protects about 40 square kilometres of water from any mineral exploration and exploitation. For land outside of the watershed area, the community has put in place a new consultation protocol, which establishes a process for companies and governments to approach KI to indicate their plans and request consent.
With both the new Mining Act as well as the Far North Act put in place after the Platinex case, KI spokesperson John Cutfeet thought that their struggle had served to enact positive legislative change. With the Far North Act, communities were to be able to do their own land use planning. But Cutfeet ultimately found that the act “is not community-based, it is MNR-based. They only give you money and then coerce you to do it their way. We thought we got change, but we didn’t.”
Tired of being ignored and lied to, KI is once again ready to resist. “We have tried everything to try and live in the established mechanisms of society,” Cutfeet said, adding that despite all of KI’s efforts to play by the rules, poverty and resource extraction persists, with nothing coming back to the community. KI is now developing maps to better document their lands, and are collecting and recording traditional knowledge from their people in preparation for another battle. And for this battle, they are enlisting allies.
“We ask that people who are interested in justice to support us.” Cutfeet mentions broadening their base to include more unions and social justice groups. “We can no longer live under a regime that has suppressed us economically and spiritually. We deserve better, our children deserve better—and this is why we push, for our future generations.”
Rebick states that it’s time to get really angry about the situation and to support KI in their fight. She links their story to the ever-unfolding history of colonialism, “Our ancestors took this land,” she said, “and they’re still taking it.” Rebick drove the point home with some Occupy-speak: “The 1% don’t seem to care that they poison the water supply of the earth, so we are the ones left to protect our water.”