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Area bands join forces to bring concerns to feds

FIRST NATIONS: Treaty relationships, land claims up for discussion

By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

More than 200 years after they were divided, five area native bands have joined to deal with Ottawa in a united front.

The newly-formed treaty council aims to re-establish governance from the 1700s when treaties were signed. It’s made up of band councils from the Chippewas of the Thames, Sarnia, Kettle and Stoney Point, Walpole Island and Caldwell First Nation.

“Coming together again now solidifies the fact that we need to act as a cohesive unit,” said Chief Louise Hillier of the Caldwell First Nation. “The more united we are, the stronger.”

The group plans to work together on what’s known as McKee Treaty, signed between the Anishinabe people and the Crown in the 1700s. Now is the time, they say, because last January — amid the Idle No More native protest movement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised his government would focus on aboriginal issues, specifically mentioning treaty relationships and land claims.

“That was a significant, significant breakthrough. It was the first time Canada has ever said something of that magnitude,” said Chippewas of the Thames Chief Joe Miskokomon.

As a reunited nation, he said, Southwestern Ontario’s Anishinabe people could help spur area economic development.

“We shouldn’t be the crabs in the bucket, all fighting over each other and get something out of government that someone else doesn’t have,” he said. “All of our treaty partners should be sharing in the same prosperity for everyone.”

He said members of the council are concerned about environmental and economic issues that affect the region and will focus on elements of the treaty that deal with those issues.

“We were allies of the Crown, not dependents. In our view, it signified an ongoing relationship of equality and sharing. So how did we become so poor, so dysfunctional, so dependent?”

When treaties were made, First Nations people were seen as a military ally, said Dean Jacobs of the Walpole Island Heritage Council. But after the War of 1812, the Crown began to consider them less an ally and more of a “social, domestic issue,” he said.

“The mentality was that we were declining, dying off from disease and war and would eventually be vanished.

“But we didn’t think we were dying off.”

First Nations communities have Canada’s youngest and fastest-growing populations.

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