TORONTO — A group of First Nations leaders travelled to Queen's Park to call on the premier to end unwanted mining activity on traditional territory, though their invitation for a meeting with the premier went unheeded.
Four chiefs of First Nations in Northern Ontario, who have formed a group called the Land Defence Alliance, were at the provincial legislature on Tuesday, where they held a press conference and offered to meet outside with Premier Doug Ford.
“The reason behind that is because it's Ford who sets the policies for his government. He's the one that been saying that he wants to proceed with the Ring of Fire and other mining activities. There are about 5,000 mining claims in our traditional territory alone and we weren't told, properly and actually. They were given permission without any prior and informed consent from us,” said Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation.
Turtle said several invitations have been sent to Ford for a meeting with the Land Defence Alliance, but they have yet to receive a response from the premier. Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford has offered to meet with the group in the premier's place.
“I think it is very evident that this government, Premier Ford, does not care about First Nations people,” asserted Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa during a press conference in Queen’s Park Tuesday morning with representatives with the Land Defence Alliance.
“The Ring of Fire is, is a big picture for them, but for us, it will destroy everything,” said Elder Alex Moonias from Neskantaga.
"I have never seen anyone coming to our community telling us, now, what do you want? I don't think, I don't think this kind of agreed to anything in 2020 because I don't think either of us say, 'If I want this and if I want' that is the government going to say yes. I think it's going to be a long process to come up with something that's going to make us equal to them, equal to how we going to live in the future.”
After the conference, Mamakwa questioned Ford during Question Period.
“Today, the table was set. Will the premier meet with the Land Defence Alliance today?" Mamakwa asked. "Yes or no?"
Ford did not provide Mamakwa with a straight yes or no answer, but instead insisted that he has always been “a premier that's been more accessible, returning phone calls, meeting with First Nations.”
“Never, ever have they have a premier that reaches out to them, supports them in any way I can. I'm going to continue to support them, but I return every single phone call and take every single meeting. Ask Regional Chief Glen Hare. He was the one who said that in front of numerous chiefs and they all agreed, so sorry to dismiss what you were saying,” Ford said.
Mamakwa fired back at Ford by stating that the chiefs Ford was referring to were not the chiefs from the Land Defence Alliance.
“The leaders are here now today. Will the premier commit to respecting the rights to their lands to decide what happens on their land? If there is any other answer, if he is unwilling to meet with them, it just means that he does not care about First Nations,” Mamakwa said.
To answer for Ford, Rickford stood in front of the house to Mamakwa touting that the Ford government has been working hard settling land and water claims and “transforming the economic, social and health landscape of those communities.”
Rickford claims that the Ford government has “struck an important balance” with Ontario’s First Nations.
“I have a personal relationship with many of them. I've known them for a long time. I meet with them in my constituency office. I spoke with Chief Turtle here today. I spoke with chief, sorry, the chief of Neskantaga long ago about some opportunities in his community. Mr Speaker, we're prepared to work with those communities as we do with every First Nations community to create opportunities for indigenous youth,” Rickford said.