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Anishinabek Nation leadership calls for land back at Economic Development, Lands and Resources Forum

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Anishinabek Nation leadership sit on a panel during Day 1 of the Anishinabek Nation Economic Development, Lands & Resources Forum held in North Bay, Ont., from February 14 to 16. From left: Nipissing First Nation Ogimaa Scott McLeod; Anishinabek Nation Grand  Council Chief Reg Niganobe; and Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Mel Hardy. – Photo by Laura Barrios

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY — Ogimaa Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation had a caveat for those sharing ideas and strategy on economic sovereignty from 39 Anishinabek Nation member First Nations represented at the Anishinabek Nation Economic Development, Lands and Resources Forum from February 14-16 in North Bay.

For the hybrid three-day event where both live-streaming and in-person options were available, Boys from the Bay gave an   opening song on Mother Drum. Nipissing First Nation Nokmis Virginia Goulais provided Thanksgiving, acknowledging she walks gently on Mother Earth as we all should.

“We were created last and everything here is provided for us that will give a good life. We practice it in the best way that we can…I say thank you for the winged ones, for the beautiful songs they sing for us.”

The Economic Development, Lands and Resources Forum theme is kina-gego-naabadosin – everything is connected. Before welcoming participants to Nipissing First Nation territory, Ogimaa McLeod set the tone by calling for careful management of the desire of economic benefit over natural law. He urges that there is a balance First Nations must walk with economic development and natural resources.

“I just think how big of a mountain we have to climb for reconciliation and most of the work should be on the other side but more often than not, we are the ones carrying the water on reconciliation. Here we are in 2023 and we are still in the courts over resources that haven’t been paid to Robinson-Huron Treaty and the Robinson-Superior Treaty — and other treaties for that matter — for more than 150 years. It’s been a long fight and relationships don’t come out of litigation.”

Ogimaa McLeod says treaties are signed to establish rules of a relationship before moving ahead, but First Nations are still fighting with governments that shirk their responsibilities. He adds that when we think of resources and economics, it’s like oil and water, “at least in the philosophies that came across on a ship.”

“Our philosophies were to take care of the resources and the resources would take care of you — that’s the premise of what we believed in. We had everything we needed. And that’s what we felt being rich was. But along came a different perspective on economics and what’s needed. Really, the philosophy that they brought over here, was to squeeze every last little drop of benefit from the resources. It wasn’t good enough that the resources would take care of you, would shelter you, would provide for you. They wanted more and more.”

Ogimaa McLeod says when he looks at the economics that happen around our traditional territories, it’s to try to get it as close to no environmental impacts as you can.

“Sometimes, you cross that line and you have to deal with the outfall of that in fixing lakes that are polluted, or lands that have eroded, or forests on fire or suffering. That’s not how we used to do things,” he says.

During the leadership panel, Ogimaa McLeod talked of Nipissing First Nation lands being held up in federal bureaucracy, therefore stalling opportunities for the First Nation to benefit. A large portion of Nipissing First Nation’s land-base of about 54,000 hectares is caught up in the Additions to Reserve’s long, slow process, says the Chief.

“A portion of our lands were surrendered back to the government to sell so that we would make money. Then we realized we didn’t want to get rid of our land-base. We need all the unsold surrendered lands to come back to us so we can use it, because it’s not technically reserve status anymore, it’s ours but it’s still federal land, so they own it. It’s in the process of Additions to Reserve with a queue, which is huge. There’s so much land that is in that process trying to get back into reserve land.”

He says there are all kinds of implications because the land is not reserve.

“We only have so much control over it; things like taxation is a real grey area.”

Ogimaa McLeod spoke about a corporation using Nipissing First Nation lands and still on the hook for payment.

“Ontario Hydro lines cut our First Nation right in half, but they are in the unsold, surrended lands. So we have not received any compensation, any lease for that. We met and negotiated with them on how much that lease should be, and how much back pay they owe us and they agreed to everything but they are not paying us, because technically they are not reserve lands. They are basically sitting on the money and we don’t get any of it. So, it’s all that missed revenue and missed opportunity to use that money for investment purposes, or simply interest. All of those things are held up because of this process… It took eight days for the federal government to take the line away from us, and it’s been over 30 years to try and get it back. Prior to our election code amendments, you had to live on-reserve to run for a Chief or Council position. Well, if you lived on the reserve but if you lived on the north side of the highway where it was unsold, you weren’t eligible to run. It’s technically not reserve, as referenced in the Indian Act‘s definitions. So, we’ve changed that now, but those were some of the implications that we were dealing with.”

He stresses that natural law versus economic development must be carefully considered as First Nations claw back and protect their land.

“It’s how much you’re willing to poison or destroy the environment in order to get economic benefits. So, if you don’t put the natural laws that basically run opposite to economic laws, if you don’t have a strong natural law base, then your economic laws are going to destroy the environment. Because what’s driving the economic laws or values is money. You can’t eat money. You can’t breathe money. You can’t drink money. So that’s why it’s really important to have those natural laws in place, knowing that that has to be greater than the economic benefits.”

The Anishinabek Nation Leadership Panel also featured Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe and Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Mel Hardy.

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