TEK Elders, First Nations to take feds to court over forest spraying

SAGAMOK – About 21 First Nations along the North Shore of Lake Huron (including those on Manitoulin Island) are set to take the federal government to court over aerial spraying on their lands, actions that they say negatively affect the environment and human health. The Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Elders of Robinson Huron Treaty say that spraying is part of a bigger issue, in that First Nations are not consulted about activities taking place on their land. The elders say that violates the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850.

“They are violating the treaties with spraying,” Ray Owl, spokesperson for the TEK Elders of Robinson-Huron Treaty territory told the Recorder. “We’ve been at this for five years, raising our concerns and have run out of avenues to be gentlemen on this issue. What we know is that what is going on is a treaty violation.” He said the 21 First Nations will take the federal government to court for violating the Robinson-Huron Treaty and the court date will take place by October. 

Native leaders say the Robinson-Huron Treaty was created to protect First Nations lands from encroachment by European settlers. The First Nations say that while they agreed to share the land it was with the understanding that each Native community would occupy lands that they, and future generations, could traditionally use for hunting and fishing. 

Mr. Owl said these rights were guaranteed, along with a yearly treaty annuity for each member of the band for the use of Native land. They were also guaranteed non-interference in their way of life, they say.

The TEK Elders are now arguing that the federal government has broken that agreement and that aerial spraying of Roundup, a glyphosate based herbicide, is a good example of the concerns, continued Mr. Owl. He pointed out First Nations didn’t agree to the spraying, which has been carried out by companies such as Hydro and Bell. 

The elders are upset with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for deciding to grant forestry companies the right to spray clear-cut areas of Northeastern Ontario without clearing it with First Nations. The herbicide kills the natural vegetation and trees like maple and birch won’t regrow. This allows jack pine and spruce, valuable to forestry companies, to take over. 

“They have been spraying from as far back as the 1970s,” said Mr. Owl, who noted a meeting will be taking place in the next week that includes all 21 First Nations, including elders and chiefs from Manitoulin. “The only way we are going to get anything done is to take the government to court. They have no respect for the treaties and they have continued to push us aside because up until now no one has been fighting this.”

“The spraying is hurting our environment, our clean water is gone and all these pesticides being sprayed affect animals and the environment,” said Mr. Owl. “Eventually we are not going to have anything to eat.”
“When we first started fighting this spraying we had five First Nations fighting with us and now we have 21,” continued Mr. Owl. “Over the past five years we have tried to get meetings at the table with the MNRF and the government,but they didn’t want to listen to us. It has been like trying to talk to a rock.”

Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin told the Recorder late last week, “we’ve been in contact with the TEK elders for the past five years on this. They (TEK Elders) are asking for meetings with the government to have things in line with historical treaties and for the government to be respectful of First Nation’s lands. They have requested numerous times to sit with the government at the table.”

“They have the support of many First Nation leaders, communities and organizations,” said Mr. Mantha. “They are very frustrated at not receiving a response from the government and to be able to sit down and talk. So they have decided to take this to the next step. I hope they have the opportunity and respect they deserve to have their voices heard.”

The decision to take the government to court has been years in the making, said Mr. Owl.