(BOB:  Update.  During a meeting with Chiefs of Ontario’s Political Confederacy on April 4, Minister Michael Bryant committed to making comprehensive changes to the Ontario Mining Act, as per our intervention.  This process would be led jointly by the Government of Ontario and First Nations.)

THUNDER BAY, ON, April 2 /CNW/ – Anishinabek Nation leaders have launched a campaign designed to force changes to the Ontario Mining Act.

Grand Council Chief John Beaucage said the imprisonment of six council members from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation has increased the urgency of ongoing Anishinabek/Ontario talks about land use and disposition.

“We will be continuing these discussions with the Province with a specific focus on mining and exploration,” said Beaucage. “We will be working toward comprehensive changes to the Mining Act that reflect the obligation on other parties to consult with First Nations and accommodate our interests before they undertake exploration on our traditional lands.”

Deputy Grand Chief Glen Hare was representing the Anishinabek Nation at today’s First Nations Leaders Gathering in Thunder Bay where Chief Donny Morris and five KI council members began serving six-month jail terms last week. The leaders of the Treaty 9 community had pleaded guilty to contempt of court for refusing to allow exploration activity by junior mining company Platinex Ltd. on their traditional territory 600 kilometres north of the Lakehead.

“Our citizens do not want to block economic progress, we want to be part of it,” said Beaucage. “However, the rule of law in Canada – as outlined by the Constitution and the Courts – and Anishinabek Traditional Law indeed support our aboriginal right to protect our traditional territories, as well as our treaty rights to share in the wealth derived from them.”

Grand Council Chief Beaucage said that the jailing of leaders from KI sends a message to the world that the rights of indigenous peoples are not as valid as those of others who live in Canada.

The Grand Council Chief said a consultation process involving the 42 Anishinabek First Nations will provide the basis for a position paper on mining exploration to be tabled at June’s annual Anishinabek Grand Council Assembly.

The Anishinabek Nation did not go so far as to support the Algonquins of Sharbot Lake and the Ardoch Algonquin who have also seen leaders jailed over a similar mining controversy. According to the Anishinabek Nation Leadership Council these are non-recognized communities, whose membership has not been affiliated with any legitimate First Nation organization.

“Although we are certainly concerned over the prospect of uranium mining and its effect on Algonquin territory, its water and land, we must reserve the rights, advocacy and support for those legitimate First Nation communities affiliated with the Anishinabek Nation,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage.

The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.