OTTAWA — Ontario’s Liberal leadership candidates seem to agree that provincial relations with First Nations — specifically figuring out how to divvy up the resources in the province’s northern “Ring of Fire” — should be a high priority in the coming months.
For the past month, aboriginal leaders supporting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike have been demanding that Canada renew its “treaty relationship” with First Nations, and agree to share the wealth that comes from extracting natural resources found in their traditional territory.
In Ontario, however, the province is also a signatory to Treaty 9, which was signed in the early 20th century and covers 250,000 square miles of northern Ontario, including Attawapiskat and the Ring of Fire.
According to a former professor of political science who has been watching Canada’s relations with First Nations for 50 years, there can be no change to the treaty relationship unless the provincial government is at the table during discussions between aboriginal leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
University of Toronto Professor Emeritus Peter Russell said Ontario’s government in the 1880s fought tooth and nail to be included in negotiations so it would have access to the vast land and resources, initially for trapping and logging.
Now, with the discovery of billions of dollars in mineral wealth in the ground around James Bay — Treaty 9 territory, which was supposed to be “shared” by the three treaty partners — the stakes are high.
“The province does all the hydroelectric, all the mining leases, they do the environmental protection up there — all that stuff is Ontario and they’re not at the table. And, they’re getting away with it,” said Russell.
But, Premier Dalton McGuinty, who Spence has insisted should attend Friday’s meeting, says his focus is on education.
When asked this week about his vision for natural resource revenue sharing in Ontario, McGuinty said the Ring of Fire is “the most exciting mineral find in Canada in some 100 years and we’re using that opportunity right now on the ground.”
He hinted the government will make an announcement “in the not-too-distant future” about “how we can better ensure that our aboriginal communities are participating in the creation of this new wealth.”
“That starts frankly with building new capacity to invest not just in skills for the leadership but also skills for young aboriginals, youths, so they’ve got what it takes to participate in these new job opportunities.”
While aboriginal leaders have agreed that “skills” and “job opportunities” for youth are important, Russell said that promise is not going to cut it because it’s the land aboriginal leaders are after.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Ottawa Citizen website: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Ring+Fire+brings+aboriginal+issues+fore+Ontario+Liberal+leadership/7803837/story.html