Respect First Nations Rights and the Rule of Law says AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine



    OTTAWA, March 20 /CNW Telbec/ - On Monday March 17, 2008 an Ontario
Superior Court judge sentenced six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug
First Nation (KI) to six months in jail for activities directly related to the
protection of their ancestral lands.
    "The federal and provincial governments have failed to meet their legal
responsibilities to consult and accommodate First Nations interests before
approving development projects that significantly affect the lands and
livelihoods of First Nations citizens. Meanwhile, those same governments
enforce private financial interests by jailing those who defend those rights,"
National Chief Phil Fontaine said.
    There has been an ongoing dispute between Platinex mining company and KI
since the province issued a license to the mining company for exploration of
the First Nations traditional territory. A similar jail sentence was handed
down in a case involving Algonquin First Nations communities near Sharbot
Lake, Ontario recently.
    "Such decisions ignore the duty of governments to engage with First
Nations and criminalize legitimate dissent. That reflects a lack of
understanding of Aboriginal rights and Canadian law," National Chief Fontaine
noted.
    Commenting on an open letter to Premier McGuinty signed by 37 civil
society groups, the National Chief said, "They have it right. Respect the
rights of First Nations and enter into good faith negotiations".
    He added, "There are various interests at stake. There are those held by
the federal and provincial governments, by private industry and by civil
society, as well as the rights and interests of First Nations that have taken
a back seat for over 140 years in this country. What we need is a respectful
process that establishes the legal obligations of all parties as the
parameters for constructive dialogue. That is how you respect the rule of law.
Follow that with real negotiations that respond to the legitimate interests of
the different parties. That is how you do business," he added.
    "I will be going to speak with Chief Morris and the other jailed
Councilors shortly. I am also asking the Mining Association of Canada and the
Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada to speak with their members
to help them understand how these situations arise and how to act to prevent
them," said the National Chief.
    "I want to acknowledge the public commitment of the Premier on Ontario to
implement the recommendations of the Ipperwash report and give Minister Bryant
credit for trying to be more active on these issues, but these conflicts are a
signal to them as well as to Prime Minister Harper that real action is needed
right now. I strongly recommend that their action fully respect the rule of
law by enforcing the legal rights of First Nations with at least equal vigour
as they do the rights of private industry".

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Joan McEwen, AFN Director of Communications,
(613) 241-6789 ext. 242, Cell: (613) 324-3329, jmcewen@afn.ca


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