SAGAMOK – The Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders (TEK) of Robinson Huron Treaty, with the support of about 21 First Nations along the North Shore of Lake Huron (including those on Manitoulin Island), is now ready to take the federal government to court over aerial forest spraying on their lands, actions that they say negatively affect the environment and human health.
“We’re moving ahead now for sure,” stated Ray Owl, spokesperson for the TEK Elders, late last week. “We are going to be holding three meetings with the chiefs on Manitoulin Island, from Sault Ste. Marie to Birch Island, along the corridor all the way down to Parry Sound, in the very near future just to outline what is going to take place.”
Mr. Owl pointed out counsel Stephen O’Neill, TEK Elders’ legal counsel will be on hand for the meetings with the chiefs and in court on behalf of the group.
The court action “is going ahead,” stated Mr. Owl. “The aerial spraying that has been carried out for many years affects all of our people, both Anishinabek and non-Native, our health and environment very seriously. The environment we have now is very, very fragile, and the government has basically not been paying any attention to the environment or the effects of the aerial spraying.”
Mr. Owl pointed out the TEK Elders had originally been requested to take this action several years by five townships from Nairn Centre to Iron Bridge, “who asked us to join them in opposition to the aerial spraying.” He pointed out, “and while this issue is a treaty issue, we have never been notified of the spraying being carried out.”
“Massey, for instance, gets its drinking water out of the river in an area that aerial spraying has been taking place,” said Mr. Owl. “The First Nations should have been asked when all of this was approved in 1994; we as First Nations had no choice, in fact we were never notified the aerial spraying was going to take place on our lands. This is a treaty violation, and we are going to take the government to court on this.”
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 Nation community would occupy lands that they and further 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 herbicides like 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 One 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 (on treaty lands) without clearing it with First Nations, and the spraying has affected humans, forests, water and animals negatively over the years.