By Donna Smith
APTN National News
TORONTO–Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says opposition from First Nations leaders won’t stop his government from pushing ahead with legislation to define which northern parts of the province can’t be mined.
The government’s Bill-191 would carve out 225,000 square kilometres, or 42 per cent of the province, and exclude it from development.
Northern First Nations leader says the bill undermines their control over traditional territories.
McGuinty, however, said the government is striking the right balance between developing the north and respecting Aboriginal rights with their proposed Far North Act.
“We have spent a great deal of time developing legislation. There has been extensive consultation,” McGuinty said to reporters. “We have put forward an initiative which, I think broadly, most Ontarians, including Aboriginal communities continue to embrace.”
McGuinty said his government has given $12 million to First Nations communities for land-use planning and an amendment was inserted in the legislation to create a permanent advisory committee with Aboriginal representation.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy, who represents 49 northern First Nations, said the bill poses a direct threat to treaty rights.
“We are opposed because it does not allow us to have a say on our homelands,” said Beardy, who was at Queens Park Monday. “When we signed the treaties we never gave up the right to govern ourselves.”
Northern Ontario First Nations chiefs are also still upset McGuinty did not follow through on a planned meetings in northern communities this past summer and instead sent Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffrey.
First Nations chiefs cancelled the meetings in response.
Beardy said the provincial government will face conflict with First Nations communities if the proposed legislation passes.
“It’s very important that we’re treated as one territory,” said Beardy.
The bill is scheduled to go up for final reading on Thursday.