In the past couple of months nothing has really changed for Indigenous people. Many First Nations are fighting for what they believe are their rights, traditional land base and livelihoods. When disputed land claims, treaty rights acknowledged by courts and a sense of political will playing to the majority come into play, crises are born.
In Caledonia, Ontario, was a hotspot in 2006 because of a First Nations land dispute. The newest housing development project there is facing its third month of protests, with blockades, court injunctions and, of course, arrests. To date, 23 people have been arrested, including two journalists and a university researcher studying injunctions and land claims. According to Ontario Provincial Police spokesperson Constable Rod LeClair, “Being a reporter does not exempt anyone from the applicable laws of Ontario and/or Canada.” One of the arrested journalists was Starla Myers, who is of Indigenous ancestry. “We are effectively being silenced by use of police force to ensure that nobody is saying anything,” Myers observed.
Ontario has also passed Bill 197, The Covid-19 Economic Recovery Act. There was no public consultation on this bill, for obvious reasons. It allows businesses, industrial or development projects to go ahead without environmental review. On September 25, over 10 First Nations filed a court challenge against the bill based on treaty rights. It’s anyone’s guess how many projects will be implemented before every legal option is exhausted.
Closer to home, protesters trying to save the moose population in Quebec’s La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve have had a setback. On October 7, Quebec Superior Court issued an injunction against the blockades and checkpoints set up by First Nations communities and their supporters. Police have demolished two blockades to date.
The Anicinape Nation claims unextinguished ancestral title to all wildlife reserve land and say they are acting because of the declining moose population. An arial survey indicates that since 2008 the moose population has declined by a third. The Anicinape have asked the government for a five-year moratorium on hunting to allow the herds to recover.
Quebec responded by cutting moose permits by 30%. At press time, the largest blockade was still in place. ZEC Petawaga, a hunting and fishing association, asked the court for an injunction and got it easily. The Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks says it will reimburse hunters who couldn’t use their permits as a result of the blockades.
Out east, tensions are running high. Way back in 1999, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that First Nations members had a right to make a “moderate livelihood” from fishing. After over 20 years of inaction by the federal government, First Nation communities created their own harvest system, upsetting commercial fishers.
Band licensed lobster harvesters run up to 50 traps while commercial operators run 375-400. On October 13 around 200 commercial fishers participated in violent attacks that saw vehicles, equipment and buildings damaged, stones thrown, the lobster catch damaged and more. Threats by the crowd included taunts such as, “If you don’t come out, we’re going to burn you out.” Police were on hand for part of the incident but did little to stop what was happening. The RCMP said they tried to de-escalate the situation but “Unfortunately events escalated.” No arrests were made.
So, what’s new? Not much.