First Nations in Ontario question provincial government commitment on the fifth anniversary of Ipperwash Inquiry Report

TORONTO, May 31, 2012 /CNW/ - May 31st marks the fifth anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry.  This Inquiry was established by the Government of Ontario on November 12, 2003 with a dual mandate to look into and report on events surrounding the death of Dudley George and to make recommendations focused on the avoidance of violence in similar circumstances.

The conflict at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 was the result of years of government inaction and neglect.  The federal government failed to restore reserve lands to the people of Aazhoodena and Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, which was appropriated in 1942 under the War Measures Act despite a promise to return the land after World War II. The Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry stated that "the appropriation of the Stony Point reserve by the Government of Canada in 1942 was unprecedented in Canadian history." The situation came to a breaking point in September 1995 when a group of people, including Dudley George, occupied the old military base leading to the eventual confrontation which resulted in the shooting death of Dudley George by an OPP sniper on September 6, 1995.

The Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, released on May 31, 2007, contained 100 recommendations focused on improving the relationship between First Nations and the Government of Ontario. The province responded in the November 2007 Throne Speech referring to the report and recommendations as "a positive road map for progress" and committed to work with First Nations to implement the recommendations. "The anniversary of the release of this landmark report presents an opportunity to reflect on the state of our relationship. There have been some positive developments since the release of the Final Report but the bottom line is that the most meaningful recommendations remain unaddressed and combined with the fact that the province has cut funding to support joint implementation work by half compared to 2007 levels has caused First Nations to question whether this government is committed to making the changes necessary to achieve reconciliation with First Nations in Ontario," stated Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.

Some of the key recommendations contained in the Ipperwash report include:

  • The provincial government should create a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs with a dedicated Minister and its own Deputy Minister;
  • The provincial government should work with First Nations to develop policies setting out how the government can meet its duty to consult and accommodate;
  • The provincial government should work with First Nations to develop policies that acknowledge the uniqueness of First Nation burial and heritage sites, and promote First Nation participation in decision-making;
  • The provincial government should work with First Nations to develop co-management arrangements and resource-sharing initiatives;
  • The provincial government should work with First Nations to develop a comprehensive plan to promote general public education about Treaties in Ontario.

Subsequently, in June 2007, David Ramsay was appointed the first Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. This was viewed by First Nations as a positive development but unfortunately the Ontario government took a step back in 2010 by once again combining the responsibilities of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs with the duties of Attorney General.  This situation remains with the current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Kathleen Wynne, also responsible for additional ministerial duties as Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs. "This move was and remains unacceptable to the First Nations in Ontario. We have complex and pressing issues that require the full attention of a dedicated Minister and we feel strongly that this was one recommendation that the Ontario government has the capability of implementing permanently," said Regional Chief Toulouse.

In relation to the government's obligation to consult and accommodate, the provincial government unilaterally drafted consultation guidelines in 2006 which were soundly rejected by First Nations. Yet these guidelines remain in place.  The Ontario government has left the settlement of conflicts in relation to the duty to consult to the courts as was witnessed in the recent dispute between the Wahgoshig First Nation and junior mining exploration company, Solid Gold Resources.   Wahgoshig First Nation was forced to file an injunction to stop exploratory drilling on their traditional lands as no consultation had occurred with the First Nation.  Justice Brown of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice rendered her decision on January 3, 2102, indicating that "the Province takes no position in this motion. It submits that the duty to consult has been triggered and that the Court's assistance is required to fashion a consultation remedy that promotes reconciliation by fairly balancing the right of WFN to be properly consulted and the right of Solid Gold to carry out early stage mineral exploration projects on its unpatented mining claims."

Regional Chief Toulouse indicates that it is the responsibility and obligation of the provincial government to work jointly with First Nation governments to ensure that First Nations are fully and meaningfully involved in decisions with regards to resource development on traditional lands. "A clear framework must be jointly created to ensure that the right to free, prior and informed consent is respected and appropriately applied" said the Regional Chief.

First Nations have the inherent right to self-government, affirmed be the Constitution Act, 1982, and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The right of First Nation governments to exercise their inherent jurisdiction with respect to their citizens, lands and resources continues to be blocked by government. In Ontario, the 2005 "New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs" policy states that the provincial government will not deal with the issue of jurisdiction.  However, the Ipperwash Implementation Priorities and Action Committee, chaired by the Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Ontario Regional Chief, identified in 2008 that dealing with the issue of jurisdiction is a matter of utmost priority.  Premier McGuinty also agreed in a meeting with First Nations leaders in December 2010 to identify a mechanism and process to address jurisdiction.  Yet there is no progress on this critical issue in spite of the fact that it is the most significant barrier to addressing the issues that lead to confrontation and conflict between First Nations and governments.  "The First Nations in Ontario expect the Ontario government to work with us in clarifying the issue of jurisdiction.  It is not acceptable to refuse to deal with what is the single most important and all encompassing issue affecting the First Nations-government relationship," stated Regional Chief Toulouse.

Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that the First Nations in Ontario remain committed to working with the Ontario government in addressing the recommendations outlined in the Final Report of the Ipperwash Inquiry and are looking for an active and committed partner in the Ontario government.

The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) is a coordinating body for the 133 First Nations located within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario.

SOURCE Chiefs of Ontario

For further information:

Andre Morriseau, Media Relations
Ph: 416-580-9320
Email: Andre@coo.org

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