THUNDER BAY – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo was in Neskantaga First Nation on Tuesday. Along with AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno for the Matawa First Nations Back to Our Roots Gathering III. The Gathering is the third of its kind, bringing together Matawa Chiefs, Elders, and front line health workers to address prescription drug abuse and misuse in the community, which has increased as a result of increased development, exclusion from resource extraction, and existing third world conditions in the north. This year’s gathering is focused on showcasing successful community-based programs and initiatives focused on recovery and aftercare.
The Back to Our Roots Gathering takes place at a time when Matawa communities face increased pressure from resource development within their traditional territories and homelands.
National Chief Atleo reiterated support for Matawa Chiefs as they continue to assert their rights to be fully engaged prior to development in their territory currently sighted for chromite mine development known as Ring of Fire.
National Chief Atleo said, “I continue to stand in support of Matawa Chiefs, and all First Nations asserting their rights to choose their own path – based on the clear principle of free, prior and informed consent as articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo. “First Nation lands hold tremendous potential, and this potential can only be fully unleashed through adequate recognition and respect of First Nation rights, Treaties and the full participation of our peoples. Meaningful consultation[and accommodation, and free, prior and informed consent means engaging up front and support for environmental and economic sustainability and self-sufficiency. This also means our fair share of any revenues generated.”
“The fact that Neskantaga is under international law gives them the right to determine what happens or does not happen in their homelands, and I fully support the community as rights holders to their lands and resources,” added AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.
“Nishnawbe Aski Nation supports Neskantaga in their efforts to protect their lands and we stand behind the people of the community who’ve declared their land first and foremost,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno who represents 49 First Nation communities in Treaty 9 and Treaty 5 territory, including Matawa First Nations. “Treaty 9 states that the government cannot have claim to its land without consent from the First Nations. The Treaty making discussions and subsequent agreement was to share the wealth of the lands – not to surrender it.”
“I commend Matawa leadership, Elders and frontline workers for engaging their peoples in this way, supporting and empowering community-based plans to addressing their challenges,” said National Chief Atleo in an address to delegates at the gathering in Neskantaga. “Many traditional healing methods require the health of the lands and rivers, so it is essential that economic interests are not ahead of human interests. Our peoples come first, our Nations come first, this is fundamental. Our communities must be healthy before we can fully thrive.”
The Ring of Fire mining area is located in the Attawapiskat River watershed in Northern Ontario. Several First Nation communities have expressed concerns about the lack of adequate consultation and accommodation, and the negative impacts of this development and associated infrastructure, including damage to the lands and river systems and altering traditional ways of life.