An Ojibwa man has blocked partial access to a provincial park in Ontario in an effort to reoccupy traditional territory and protest an agreement signed last year by local First Nations leaders and the provincial and federal governments.
John Hawke, 34, of Beausoleil First Nation has taken over one of the two access points to Awenda Provincial Park in opposition to the 2018 Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement.
The deal sees $1.1 billion paid to seven local First Nations — $444 million from the Government of Ontario and $666 million from the Government of Canada — for not upholding the Crown’s promises set out in a series of treaties signed in 1923.
As part of the agreement, Ontario and Canada recognized the pre-existing harvesting rights of First Nations members in some treaty areas, and each First Nation can add up to 11,000 acres to each of their reserve land bases.
Hawk says the deal breaches the 1764 Treaty of Niagara between the Crown and 24 Indigenous Nations, including the Ojibwa.
He called last year’s agreement “a flawed treaty that’s biased and doesn’t work in our favour.
“Giving up Indigenous title is not in the authority of the band councils to do, because these territories belong to the traditional clan system, the clan families — our traditional governing systems.”
Hawk interprets the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement as the official “surrender of Indigenous title to 13 million acres [of land].”
He says funds paid by the governments to First Nations would have to be used to buy back additions to reserve lands.
“Each reserve, of the seven First Nations, are permitted to purchase 11,00 acres back, each. So there’s 77,000 acres in total we’re allowed to purchase back with our compensation funds,” he said.
Hawk blocked the road on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, and has been supported by a small number of local First Nations community members, he told APTN News in a phone interview Thursday.
He said he undertook the decision to reoccupy Awenda on his own, after attempts to discuss his concerns during the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement community meetings were fruitless.
“I was more or less patronized,” he recalls. “When our seven communities met with the lawyers and I brought up this fact—it’s a law I’ve been upholding, that as a band council they have no right to surrender that Indigenous title.”
Hawk maintains First Nation band councils established under Canada’s Indian Act don’t have the authority to negotiate the rights, jurisdiction or title belonging to their peoples.
In a written statement to APTN, federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office said the 2018 settlement resolved the Alderville litigation, referring to the 1992 legal action launched by Alderville First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation , Beausoleil First Nation, Chippewas of Georgina Island, Chippewas of Rama, Curve Lake First Nation, and Mississaugas of Scugog Island, which went to trial in 2012.
“Working together through a respectful and collaborative dialogue is vital to strengthening the treaty relationship and advancing reconciliation with First Nation partners for the benefit of their communities and all Canadians,” the statement from Bennett’s office says.
“As a key part of this settlement, Minister Bennett was at Rama First Nation on November 17, 2018 to apologize to the First Nations, on behalf of the Government of Canada, for the harms caused to their communities.”
With this apology and settlement, we begin to build a new relationship for Canada and the Williams Treaties First Nations, one of respect and partnership. We are committed to writing this next chapter together, in the spirit of reconciliation. pic.twitter.com/I8EKgcpqv7
— Carolyn Bennett (@Carolyn_Bennett) November 17, 2018
“The settlement was negotiated with each First Nation as a whole. It was overwhelmingly approved by the members of the seven First Nations, including Beausoleil, in a community vote in June 2018 before the settlement was finalized.”
Bennett’s office says any further questions should be directed to the First Nations themselves.
APTN was unable to reach leadership from Beausoleil First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation and Chippewas of Rama before the story was published.
Hawk said Beausoleil Chief Guy Monague dropped by Awenda last weekend to visit with him and that the two had a respectful conversation.
But Hawk maintains that title to Anishinaabe lands is held by the peoples’ clan systems, not the First Nation governance system imposed by Canada on Indigenous nations under the Indian Act.
“Indigenous title is the underlying title and the basis of Canada, which is the Indigenous peoples’ clan systems,” he said.
He says the current elected councils “are far removed from our understandings of our clan system.”
APTN reached out to Ontario’ Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford and Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
An “alert” on the Awenda Provincial Park website states that “an individual has set up a blockade at one of two entrances at Awenda Provincial Park,” but that the “park remains open for camping and day use opportunities; however, a detour is in place to provide public access. Public safety remains our first priority and will guide our operation of the park.”
The park is located in Penetanguishene township and sits on the southeastern shoes of Georgian Bay.
Hawk doesn’t intend to disrupt anyone or cause any safety concerns, he said.
Instead, he’s focused on bringing members of local First Nations communities into dialogue about continuing grassroots efforts to reestablish and strengthen their Anishinaabe clan systems.
“My goal right now is to establish a community working group representing our traditional governing systems, [and] to acknowledge our presence in the park by creating a partnership [with the province].
“So trying to create this grassroots collaborative within our communities, starting with our own community first, Beausoleil.”
He also wants to rally community members to push back against the Williams Treaties Settlement Agreement and to be “compensated for our 12 million acres [of land] in perpetuity.”