Respected First Nation Treaty Leaders in Ontario: OPEN LETTER
THUNDER BAY – Treaties in Ontario must be respected – the only way for this to occur is through immediate dialogue with government and industry on First Nation jurisdiction through a “treaty” lens.
The derailment that took place this past weekend on Highway 144 north of the Arctic Watershed near Gogama in Treaty #9, south of Matagami First Nation, is by far one of the most glaring screams of neglect and carelessness on the part of the Crown and the rail industry since the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster of July 13th 2013.
As a Treaty leader and citizen of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, I am calling on all Treaty leaders in Ontario and their citizens to consider the following:
- Support the call for an immediate investigation, and halt, of all rail transportation where obvious systemic safety violations manifest rail disasters and chronic unsafe rail infrastructure;
- Assert by way of mail, media and messages directly to MP’s and MPP’s to support Treaty Regions in Ontario and their leadership being recognized at a formal inter-governmental table regarding all federal rail systems history, current activities and policy affecting treaty lands;
- Advance immediate motions, resolutions, and/or petitions to the Federal Minister of Transportation to implement all of Part IV: Railway Safety Act – Administration and Enforcement where it pertains to all derailments;
- Advance immediate calls to the Transportation Safety Board to implement the full force and effect of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act with respect to all rail safety issues that impose a detrimental impact on all Treaty lands across Ontario;
- Call on the Federal and Provincial Auditor General and Environment Commissioners to take immediate steps to ensure a “21st Century Recognition of Historical Treaties across the Ontario Region,” by carrying out formally recognized processes and using meaningful mechanisms to ensure a full scrutiny of impacts is considered when a derailment occurs on treaty lands. This would include a clear definition of First Nation jurisdiction;
- Call on the Assembly of First Nations, Chiefs of Ontario and all other organizations that represent the advocacy of First Nations, to observe and to analyze derailments through the lens of “treaty” lands. And for these organizations to immediately urge Canada, Ontario, regulatory agencies that have oversight of the rail industry, and the rail industry itself, to immediately govern themselves according to the treaties and to formally state by way of written response, their recognition of “Aboriginal and Treaty” rights – at this most critical time in First Nation, Government and Industry relations;
- Issue written notifications and formal advisements to the Railway Association of Canada, putting its members and executive on notice that a “treaty” lands agenda and lens is a critical discussion that would be in their best interest to accommodate, given the critical rise in concerns regarding safety issues and derailments in treaty regions across Ontario;
- Demand for the Immediate Resignations of persons responsible for derailments on all regulated railways in our respective treaty lands.
As First Nation treaty leaders, it would be with clear resolve that we call on Canada, Ontario and Canadian National Railway, to act immediately on these actions and to engage all First Nation Treaty leaders to formalize a recognized process to: identify, re-affirm and to modernize a dialogue on treaty obligations as it pertains to the entire rail network and infrastructure system in Ontario.
In total, there are 49,422kms in Canada, and in Ontario there are currently thirteen railways. Of these railways, there are both Class 1 Railways and Short Line Railways that are all subject to safety rules, regulations and laws.
It is strikingly clear that as of this point in Canada’s history, the only significant history and tie between railways and treaties is mired in a dark legacy. Remember, this country’s first Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald and his legacy, as written by Laura J. Murray on January 9, 2015 in the Toronto Star: Insight Editorial called “Sir John A MacDonald: Nation builder of Racist?”
“That famous railroad? Macdonald engaged in rampant graft to get it through. His government starved aboriginal people on the prairies into submission to get it through. His government treated Chinese immigrants like dirt to get it through, and then came up with a head tax so more people of that “semi-barbaric, inferior race” couldn’t come to Canada.
Yes, the railroad probably did much to make Canada. It is a major Macdonald legacy. But it is inextricably linked to other Macdonald legacies. The effects of treaties negotiated and implemented during Macdonald’s many years in office, his treatment of the Métis, his creation of reserves — these are felt every day across Canada, and continue to demand attention in communities, in political settings and in the courts.”
It is time to change a national narrative on treaties in this country – railways must be part of that process; especially in light of the issues surrounding derailments and the impact to Land, Air and Water on treaty lands. To its credit, the Ontario government has opened up dialogue on First Nation jurisdiction, treaties and a new working relationship with First Nations in the province. We must see this tragic rail disaster as a clear opening to further define this new dialogue. We must also insist that Canada become part of this dialogue when it comes to federal mandates and responsibilities. To that end – the message to rail companies: “Treaty lands can no longer be a missing part of the rail industry equation. Railway activities must never infringe upon or affect Treaty rights of First Nations – all recourse must be enforced promptly.”
As a First Nation leader who’s First Nation (Serpent River First Nation – SRFN) and Treaty Region (Robinson Huron Treaty 1850 – RHT1850) have extensive rail systems, both short-line and Class 1 rail systems, traversing our territory, we can not remain silent to the urgent need for this call. We are seeking to establish a collective voice and formal issuance of concern to ensure that a full response is given to the issue of derailments that impact treaty lands and the rights of future generations, as well as the jurisdictions of Treaty First Nations in Ontario.
Chief Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini
Serpent River Anishinabek
Lake Huron Regional Grand Chief