An Ontario Métis tribe prepares to take the Government of Ontario to trial in the coming months, accusing it of excluding them from negotiations for mining grants within their claimed territory.
The Algonquin Woodland Métis Anishinabek Tribe (AWMAT) submitted a comprehensive claim to the Government of Ontario in 2009, arguing the government had failed to fulfill its legal obligations: Fiduciary Responsibility, Duty to Consult, and Duty to Accommodate. Under these mandates, the government is required to consult and negotiate with Aboriginal tribes in whose claimed traditional lands it plans to lease or sell land for the purpose of, for example, mining.
“We were told we won’t be recognized as a nation,” said Zane Bell, Grand Chief of the AWMAT. “They won’t recognize our community with the same rights of service as the Métis Nation of Ontario.”
The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the governmental body responsible for dealing with land claims, says they never received a land claim from Bell or his tribe.
“We have no record of a land claim being filed by Chief Bell of the AWMAT,” said Phyllis Bennett, a communications officer with the ministry. “Chief Bell was pointed towards the website in our response to his letter in 2009.”
Bell provided the Nation with scanned images of letters he sent to the ministry, which constitutes the initial and supporting documentation for the claim and the necessary information to open up comprehensive negotiations with the province. The ministry’s response left Bell incensed.
“We only got letters saying ‘thank you for your letter, we passed it on to the Minister; have a good day’,” he said, his voice quickly rising as he spoke. “That’s not responding. Passing us on to their website is not consultation; that’s not an appropriate response.”
Bell says the ministry told him they deal with the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) for mining claims where the Anishinabek Tribe is a stakeholder. Bell argues that by receiving funding from the federal government – including $30 million from the federal Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy in 2010 – it is a political lobbyist group, not a community and therefore should not be the point consultation for Métis claims. The MNO refused to comment on the issue.
The Powley Test, developed from the Supreme Court Decision R. v Powley, states a Métis community can claim Aboriginal rights under section 35 of the Charter if, among other criteria, it can demonstrate its practices existed after contact with Europeans occurred, but before Europeans consolidated control. The Anishinabek Tribe claims to have records of their existence and traditions that date to early French colonialism, long before subjugation. This, Bell argues, gives the Canadian government a legal responsibility to consult them when they are a stakeholder in claims.
“The provincial government is in failure of their fiduciary responsibility; they are giving lip service and falsehoods that they are negotiating with Aboriginal people and they exclude tribes they haven’t signed treaty with,” said Bell. “They are in adversarial positioning by not consulting with and accommodating Aboriginal people in connection with the 2009 comprehensive claim.”
The Anishinabek Tribe has also been referred to other Aboriginal groups – the Wahta Mohawks, for example – when community members have filed claims under the Mining Act. Bell stressed they have no qualm with other Aboriginal tribes, calling them brothers and sisters, but that his tribe should be included in any discussions regarding his claim – which, he says, runs from Nova Scotia to the northeast corner of Alberta.
“For the Northern Ontario Act, they consulted with the MNO but refused to meet with our community,” Bell said. “And now, with the [Proposed Exploration Plans and Permits Regulation in the Mining Act], they say they are adhering to Aboriginal consultation requirements, but they haven’t ever spoken with us and we’re stakeholders here. A current objection is being filed with the Environmental Bill of Rights registry.”
The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs maintains that they have not received a land claim from the Anishinabek Tribe.