Big Trout Lake, a Cree-Ojibway community in Northern Ontario, has given its Northern Store the boot.

After a 150-year presence in the town of 1,000, Northern was given just a few days to pack its bags and leave after a dispute with the local Band Council.

The dispute started after Big Trout Lake’s other store, which is owned by the band, put up advertising signs around the community. One sign was put up on a tree that the Northern Store claimed was on its property.

The Northern Store’s manager told the band to take down the sign within two hours or he would issue a fine.

Band members responded with disbelief, saying they had never agreed to give up ownership of this land to Northern or the Hudson’s Bay Co. Chief Jacob Ostaman immediately called’a meeting of band members, who decided to ask Northern to leave town.

“We asked them to remove themselves from the community because of that attitude displayed by the manager,” Ostaman told The Nation. “We cannot tolerate that kind of attitude any more.”

Northern complied with the order. The company was also told it would have to pay for the cleanup of polluted sites around the store. Ostaman said Northern’s fuel tanks have spilled over and polluted water in the lake near the community.

“It’s a strong move that has been talked about for many years,” said Ostaman. “If you look at the Northern Store, they’re just there collecting money from our people and the money goes out of the community,” he said.

“We call that economic exploitation. I think that economic exploitation has to stop.”

The Northern Store property was granted by Ottawa to the Hudson’s Bay Co. in the 1830s, even though a treaty wasn’t signed by the Big Trout Lake people until 1929.

“My people believe that’s their traditional territory, even though it’s not part of the reserve,” said the chief.

“We’ve been here many generations and obviously that should tell us its part of our traditional territory.”
—Alex Roslin