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First Nation leaders jailed for defending traditional lands from exploitation called “Political Prisoners in Canada”

Thursday, March 20th 2008 2:29:23pm

Media Release – Distributed at the direction of the First Nations of Sachigo Lake, Bearskin Lake, Muskrat Dam, Kasabonika, Wunnimun, Wapekeka, Kingfisher and Wawakapewin.

First Nation leaders jailed for defending traditional lands from exploitation called “Political Prisoners in Canada”

Police and Fire Department extinguish Sacred Fire tended by Elders in Thunder Bay

(March 20, 2008) The Chief and Council of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) who took a stand to defend their traditional territory from exploitation have been jailed. They are a government in exile jailed in the correctional system of the Province of Ontario and Canada. They are now political prisoners in a democratic country called Canada.

The surrounding communities who share the common land with KI, condemn the outrageous and oppressive actions taken by the Province of Ontario and their court system for incarcerating the Chief and Council of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. Our Chiefs and Councils are our highest form of government in the First Nations community.

Based on oral history and tradition these First Nations (whose traditional lands encompass approx. 25,000 sq. km. of land in northwestern Ontario, roughly 600 km north of Thunder Bay) take the position that they never surrendered their lands through the treaty making process. Their traditional lands, their occupation and use of these lands are based on their inherent and God-given right.

Chief Vernon Morris from Muskrat Dam First Nation states, “The government’s view of duty to consult is that there will be basis for discussions to begin for planning and development.  Our interpretation of the duty to consult is that we have a right to say, ‘No’ when the actions for development will have a harmful effect or no benefit to our First Nation.”

John Cutfeet, a member of KI, who was also charged and is challenging the contempt of court charges states “that incarcerating First Nations leadership is akin to jailing a Minister of the Crown who is properly conducting government business, this would be totally unacceptable to the general public”.  Mr Cutfeet further stated, “the Government of Ontario does not recognize case law on duty to consult especially when they have the power to revoke a license.”

Yesterday, a bad situation was made worse when the Sacred Fire (established outside the Thunder Bay jail) sanctioned by the leadership and elders to show support to the incarcerated leadership was extinguished by the Thunder Bay Police and Fire Marshall’s office (March 19, 2008). This is a direct violation of the Charter of Rights to freedom of religion and practice. This action is a shameful and disgraceful suppression of First Nation traditional spiritual ceremony.

The nine First Nations meeting next week, will be calling for support on sustained opposition to encroachment on First Nations lands and to counter the repressive actions taken by the governments of the day. Chief Norman Brown of Wapekeka First Nation states, “One thing is obvious Platinex is not welcome on First Nation traditional lands.”

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug literally translated means the people of Big Trout Lake who share common land. The people of Big Trout Lake also live in the communities/First Nations of Sachigo Lake, Bearskin Lake, Muskrat Dam, Kasabonika, Wunnimun, Wapekeka, Kingfisher and Wawakapewin. The communities are gathering on March 26 & 27 to show their support for KI leadership and members in their time of distress while protecting their lands and resources.

To arrange interviews contact:  Wally McKay, former Ontario Regional Chief and former Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief  at (204) 299-8702