OTTAWA – The Grassy Narrows’ Trappers’ Case finally reached the Supreme Court of Canada today, after more than a decade winding its way through the system. Lawyers representing Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources, Attorney Generals’ Offices, Resolute Forest Products and Goldcorp, as well as nearly a dozen other First Nations, argued about the Treaty rights of Anishinabe people in Treaty 3 territory, which will have a major impact on the future of resource extraction industries operating in Indigenous territories throughout Ontario and across the country. It will likely be some time before there is a ruling.
While Grassy Narrows’ lawyers argue with the Government about the original intent of the Treaty and fight in court to uphold the Treaty stipulation that says the people of Grassy Narrows will be able to hunt and fish on their traditional territory without infringement from the province, youth from the community are taking a different approach.
Regardless of the court’s decision, youth are intent to continue asserting their inherent rights to use the lands of their territory.
“I will continue to exercise my rights and obligations to use and protect the land as I see fit, because I am still Anishinabe,” says Edmond Jack, who at 19 is already an experienced activist/land defender, as well as a licensed trapper.
Still, Anishinabe youth from Asubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) are acutely aware of the importance of this case for the future of their community and nation. “It would seem that our right to speak for the land that we use to hunt and fish is at stake,” says Jack, “but in reality that cannot be taken away; it is the health of the land itself that is at stake, and therefore the health of the people is at stake.”
Taina Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows youth organizer says, “what I feel is at stake in the trappers’ case is the right to live how my ancestors have for thousands of years, in an environment that has purpose for that.”
Youth in the community are angry about the government’s insistence that the land belongs to ‘the Crown’ in ways that allow Ministries to exclude and alienate the Anishinabe from the land through relentless development and resource extraction projects as well as other colonial policies.
Youth are also questioning the validity of the court’s authority.
“I don’t see why they would think they have the final word when it comes to decisions made around land use in our territories,” Jack says. “They don’t need anything here; it’s our people that need it. Our people are the ones who survive out here without hurting the land, not the government,” he says.
“It’s frustrating how the government is describing their position, because we all know these lands rightfully belong to the Anishinabe,” says Da Silva.
Grassy Narrows youth have also taken offence to the intervention in the case by Goldcorp—the world’s largest gold mining company, and Resolute FP (formerly Abitibi)—the logging company that held the government issued contract for the Whiskey Jack Forest prior to 2006. Both corporations have taken the position that Grassy Narrows does not have an inalienable right of access to lands in their traditional territory, and that Ontario does have the right to initiate resource extraction and development on Anishinabe territories in ways that do explicitly limit First Nations’ Treaty rights.
“These companies are clearly trying to influence, in their own interest, what will be decided about this case, by joining the Government’s position,” says Da Silva. “I think this is typical of them, since it means so much land destruction” – though they would call it ‘development’ – “as well as money,” she says.
However, regardless of the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision, youth in Grassy Narrows intend to continue to exercise their inherent rights within their territory.
“If the Supreme Court rules against Grassy, it just means another issue that we are going to deal with,” says Da Silva. “When it comes to our land, our rights, our way of life, and the people being infringed upon with vast impacts,” she says, “we will never give up.”