Aboriginal protesters erect teepee at Queen's Park
TORONTO - Activists from two northern Ontario First Nations groups erected a nine-metre teepee on the front lawn of the Ontario legislature Monday, four days before a planned national aboriginal day of protest.
Members of the Grassy Narrows and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nations are using the teepee to draw attention to the continued logging and mineral extraction on their traditional lands.
"Our traditional territory has been destroyed by forestry operations,'' said Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister.
"All the trees are gone, all the animals are gone, and there's been no compensation for our people.''
Fobister also said the demonstration was intended to educate the public in advance of the day of protest on June 29.
John Cutfeet, a spokesman for the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, said the mining of minerals on traditional lands near Thunder Bay is illegal.
"What we're saying is it's now time for this government to recognize our rights and uphold the laws of this land,'' he said, noting a Supreme Court of Canada ruling stating that aboriginals must be consulted about resource development on their traditional lands.
The demonstration was organized in conjunction with the Rainforest Action Network and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Leah Fontaine, a 20-year-old who lives on the Grassy Narrows reserve near Kenora, Ont., travelled to Toronto last week to take part in the protest.
"Our trapping and our wildlife are being destroyed by the logging companies,'' she said.
Only a few minutes from her home, Fontaine said massive areas of the forest have been clearcut.
But while the area has seen an increase in logging activity, she said none of the economic benefits have reached the reserve, which suffers from 75 per cent unemployment.
"In Grassy, there's maybe only 50 jobs and there's about 800 people there,'' she said. "It's impossible to find a job.''
Grassy Narrows resident Melissa Fobister, 26, said previous efforts by the band to deter logging on their traditional lands have resulted in the logging companies moving to remote locations less easily accessed by roads.
"It's almost like they're being sneaky,'' she said, adding that the recent birth of her child has motivated her to take action.
"I have a young son, so I just want to protect our lands for him and other future generations.''
The protesters did not say how long they planned to keep the teepee in front of the legislature in place.