ONTARIO – The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) held an Emergency Chiefs Assembly and media event with First Nations Leadership on Aug. 28 about the Auditor General’s special report on the changes to the Greenbelt.

The meeting was scheduled “to allow for all Ontario First Nations Leadership to gather virtually to discuss the Auditor General of Ontario’s Special Report on the Greenbelt,” a press release from the COO said, “as well as further direction for the COO to undertake with regard to the relationship with the provincial government. Following this, the COO held a media event as an opportunity for First Nations Leadership to discuss their concerns directly with media members.

During the Emergency Chiefs Assembly, a resolution was passed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly that directed the COO to demand that Premier Doug Ford commit to all the recommendations as outlined in the Auditor General’s report, including the recommendation to return all land parcels to the Greenbelt immediately. 

The resolution also directs the COO to call for a criminal investigation into how the Greenbelt lands were chosen for removal and the extent to which the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Premier had control over the situation and were aware of the lands selected to be removed from the Greenbelt for development.

During the Emergency Chiefs Assembly, the COO’s previous direction was re-confirmed by Leadership in that the COO will cease any working relationship with MMAH Minister Steve Clark until further notice. Still, that work at the technical level within the ministry will continue to allow for optimal progress on First Nations’ housing priorities.

On Sept. 4, Clark resigned from his position as Housing Minister, but will remain MPP for the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

Further, the COO will be inquiring into the scope of work regarding the inquiry of the integrity commissioner and any RCMP investigation as it occurs. Regarding pursuing legal routes, the COO remains open to all legal options as the situation progresses. However, they are hopeful that negotiations with Premier Ford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford, and all other relevant ministries can begin before these avenues are explored.

“From First Nations’ point of view, the situation in its entirety is corrupt,” said Grand Chief Joel Abram, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI). “We will continue to support the RCMP in its considerations to conduct a full investigation into this matter.”

As was consistently reiterated throughout the media event, First Nations have been given minimal, if any, opportunity to be adequately consulted on these changes to the Greenbelt, despite these changes directly affecting First Nations’ inherent, treaty and constitutionally protected rights.

“The Ford government has a strong track record of ignoring First Nation voices and Treaty rights, as demonstrated with the Williams Treaty,” said Grand Council Chief Reginald Niganobe, Anishinabek Nation. “Anyone who cares about democracy, public trust, and institutions, should be profoundly disturbed by the report and its findings.”

As First Nations continue to highlight the lack of consultation and meaningful dialogue with the province throughout the Greenbelt processes, it is of extreme importance to note that this particular issue is not First Nations-specific and that all Ontarians ought to be concerned with the detrimental environmental and agricultural impacts that these land removals will result in.

“We must discuss the importance of the Greenbelt, wetlands, woodlands, and all its significant pieces,” said Chief Laurie Carr, Hiawatha First Nation. “In our teachings, we talk about wetlands as being the kidney of mother earth, and how they filter our waters; we talk about food, water, hunting, lands, and farming; all of these agricultural impacts should be concerning to every Ontarian, and development in any part of this area is unacceptable.”

As discussed during the media event, several First Nations who are part of the Williams Treaty Settlement Agreement have rights within a large part of the Greenbelt that are recognized, including the rights to harvest, hunting, fishing, and gathering. The province’s removal of these lands within and surrounding the Greenbelt areas will directly interfere with those First Nations’ rights.

“Premier Doug Ford and his government must be held accountable to their early promises to ensure the Greenbelt remains untouched,” said Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare. “The province must take into consideration First Nations’ rights and the duty to consult when proposing changes of such a great impact and magnitude.”

The Chiefs of Ontario support all First Nations in Ontario as they assert their sovereignty, jurisdiction and chosen expression of nationhood. 

On Sept. 5, Ford held a press conference where he stated that his government will “re-evaluate” Greenbelt land, including hundreds of additional applications for land removal, which could result in further changes to the protected land.

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 08, 2023 at 07:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Advance Times   Wingham, Ontario
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