Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug: Our Home and Native Land

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

[The following is a speech made by John Cutfeet on Saturday, June 2nd, 2007, as part of a Roundtable on “the Duty to consult aboriginal peoples and Ontario's Mining Act” at the Canadian Law and Society Association meetings at the Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.]

Greetings to all of you from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug!

These greetings come to you from 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. You may have heard of the legal issues surrounding our territory now I want to introduce you to our land, which we call Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug territory. I hope by the time I finish you will better understand and appreciate why we believe that we have a sacred responsibility to protect our home and native land for future generations.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug territory, the heart of the north, is located South of the Hudson Bay coast. Kitchenuhmaykoosib means the big lake where the trout are found. Inninuwug means the people and when you put them together it means the peoples of the Big Lake where the trout are found. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug  is home to approximately fifteen hundred people who live on and continue to utilize the land and the waters in the same way as our ancestors have for centuries before us.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib is also the site where the adhesion to Treaty Nine was signed on July 5, 1929.

My grandmother Marion Anderson, an Order of Ontario recipient, and her best friend, Jemima Morris, were present at the signing of the treaty adhesion in Kitchenuhmaykoosib. Jemima, a living witness to the signing of the adhesion in July 5, 1929; was 12 years old when this took place. Jemima spoke with me while I was living in the city.

She said, “kuhoshehtoon shakeh, daaki.”

I didn’t understand or know why she was telling me this, as I've lived away from the community most of my adult life. I had only participated in traditional land activities until I was in my late teens. She was telling me that I had to create or make my land. I came to understand later that I had to create my environment with everything that was around me. What she was telling me was that I had the authority to be able to do that. That is a very empowering statement coming from an Elder.

I fully began to comprehend and appreciate these instructions after I was placed in a position of leadership. It is with this knowledge in 1999 when I became part of the leadership under the Chief and Council system that I became responsible for the Lands and Environment portfolio. It is at that time that our community began to look at laws that would help us protect and preserve Kitchenuhmaykoosib lands for future generations.

My grandmother, Marion Anderson was 16 years old when the treaty adhesion was signed in our community. She was exercising leadership qualities at that age, unlike 16 year olds of today. She understood the rights that came from the treaty promises had to be respected; they were sacred.

What made them sacred was the language - using God's creation to symbolize how long the treaty commitments would last. To get Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug support, the Treaty Commission said that these commitments would remain for "as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows."

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug recognizing the supremacy of God, who created the sun, water, moon and stars in the heavens, the earth and all creatures including man, understood this to mean that these promises would last forever. Marion Anderson heard these words but you do not see this commitment reflected in the treaty document.

The Treaty Commission arrived with the papers already completed, minus the signatures- with the paper written in English only.

Although the document was not translated at the signing, the words at the time were translated and that is what Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug understood to be the content of these documents. That is the basis for the sharing of the land and "all that it possesses."

In signing the adhesion, our forefathers understood that we would live in peace and harmony with the newcomers to this great land. They understood and we understand that we were to share in the wealth extracted throughout the territory under treaty # 9. Our ancestors never understood the signing of the treaty to represent a mass land surrender.

There was also another pressing reason why our forefathers signed the treaty #9 adhesion. They wanted to put a stop to the harassment of our hunters, trappers, and fishermen by the Department of Lands and Forest, as they went about their daily routine of providing for their families from the land.  In nineteen hundred and ten (1910) the province was parceling off our land, 19 years before the adhesion was signed in 1929. It is our view that they had no legal right to impose their laws and to even be in our territory before the signing of the 1929 adhesion.

The signing of the treaty adhesion became a mechanism for which we would engage with the newcomers to this land. The treaty land entitlement process became a way to which we could begin to settle the outstanding land that we claim is still owing to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Innininuwg. We filed a land claim in 2000 for the lands that we calculated were still owing, in the amount of more than 200 square miles.

In 2007, the province of Ontario, without the courtesy of written notice beforehand to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, referenced our claim in court, saying that "it is tenuous at best and without merit."

Over seven years had gone by since the claim had been filed with no response from Ontario. When we challenged their practice of handing out a permit that will impact on our potential land selection, they came out and discounted our land claim. Canada still hasn't decided.

The land claim process was only one mechanism that we reviewed in 2000 that we could utilize to protect and preserve our territory and have a say in how development, if any, were to occur in our territory.

Over the years, we noticed that the Supreme Court of Canada had been making rulings that called for consultation and accommodation if treaty rights were going to impacted through the actions of the Crown. For Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, there was nothing in place at that time which said this is how we want to be consulted so we developed our own Consultation Protocol. This protocol was recognized by Justice Patrick Smith in the first two rulings along with the outstanding treaty land entitlement claim.

Although we utilized current processes like the Land Claims process and the Supreme Court ruling of consultation and accommodation, the Ontario government issued a permit to Platinex Incorporated (based in Aurora, Ontario) to come and install a drilling program in our territory. Platinex claimed that they were told that they had "quiet possession” of the land, so without our knowledge and consent, armed with a provincial permit, they proceeded toward a drilling program in February of 2006.

When Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug found out that there were intruders on the land without our knowledge, a protest was organized, until the drilling crew left and we were served with a ten billion dollar lawsuit plus change by Platinex. They also filed for an injunction to prevent us from interfering with their drilling program.

Justice Smith ruled in our favour by giving us an interim injunction for five months when consultations were to occur.

Since this ruling, free-entry into our territory is no longer free. There are now certain requirements that have to be addressed by the company, including: provisions for burial sites, environmental impacts; impacts to hunting and trapping; participation in decision-making, use of KI supplies and services; employment, and compensation and funding.

In the latest ruling, the court referenced treaties as being "special agreements, made between sovereign states." Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug have always believed that we signed the treaty sovereign to sovereign.

How, then, can a creation of Canada, a successor state, such as a province determine what happens on our land? As far as we are concerned, with the non-fulfillment of our treaty land entitlement, aboriginal title remains until the land claim is settled and the people have given their consent to give up all rights to land.

I would like to introduce you to a concept, a law, that we utilized in asking the drilling company to leave the territory.

In the absence of the Crown respecting its own processes and the Supreme Court ruling, the law of the land, we had to invoke Kitchenuhmaykoosib Ininuwug sacred law of Kanawayandan D'aaki.

As early as I can remember, my late father, Daniel Cutfeet, had used his skills as a hunter, fisherman, and a trapper to provide sustenance for his family just like his father and his father’s father before that. This land has supported generations of Cutfeet right to the present day. A culture built around hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, and harvesting activities requires intimate knowledge and respect for the very land that ensures your very survival.

Even confined to his wheelchair, my father guided me on where to set nets during certain times of the year by drawing maps. His knowledge of the fish and animal patterns in the lake and on the land came from exercising these skills he learned from his father and his father before him. This knowledge accumulated over generations and Daniel Cutfeet understood and respected how this land  sustained countless generations before him. He knew what Kanawayandan D'aaki meant.

Kanawayandan D'aaki! That is what the elders say when they give us the original instructions to look after the land.

Kanawayandan D'aaki means “look after my land”, but most importantly, it means “keep my land”. Kanawayandan D'aaki not only means you have a responsibility to look after the land but that you also have a sacred duty from our Creator "God Almighty" to fulfill this sacred responsibility.

This term represents the passing of the responsibility from generation to generation that occurred to ensure the survival of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. Our primary responsibilities as keepers of the land revolve around our spiritual mandate to preserve and protect it Kanawayandan D'aaki!

The special, spiritual relationship we have with the land is based on how we interact with the land and the respectful way we view our land that provides for all our needs. It is only natural that we safeguard and preserve our traditional lands that sustain our culture and our way of life if we are to be true to our core beliefs. We believe that there is no aspect of our lives that is untouched by the land and water, which is why there is a high priority on protecting the relatively unspoiled character of our land base. We also have to ensure that it continues to support our future generations.

Justice Patrick Smith understood what we are talking about when he wrote:

The relationship that aboriginal peoples have with the land cannot be overstated. The land is the very essence of their being. It is their very heart and soul. No amount of money can compensate for its loss. Aboriginal identity, spirituality, laws, traditions, culture, and rights are connected to and arise from this relationship to the land.

What he describes and says is Kanawayandan D'aaki!

It is under these teachings and beliefs that Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug acted on in our own defense by asserting our God-given authority to protect our lands in the pursuit of justice, justice that has until Justice Patrick Smith's ruling had been non-existent and remains elusive for Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

When the exploration company came onto our land without permission from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, it directly challenged our culture, our spirituality, and the sacred mandate that had been entrusted to us by the Creator to protect the land in which we were placed.

For too long the practice and exercise of this responsibility has been suppressed and demeaned by this government. Land and all that exists within it, including Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug continue to be stripped away. Our right to lands or the exercise of our aboriginal and treaty rights is denied, or ignored, at best.

The actions of the governments deny Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug a basic human right: the right to exist! The right to exist in peace and comfort; and to ensure that survival continues based on our worldview, culture and spiritual connection; and to be safe in our lives on our own lands within our own customs.

Before the signing of the treaty adhesion in 1929 in our community, the Crown was interfering in the lives of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug by harassing our people as they went about their daily lives of providing for our families as we have done since time immemorial.

Much like as it was before 1929, our experience remains the same. We have to continue to be vigilant when it comes to our wellbeing and our survival on the land that was provided for us. That vigilance includes watching the actions of those who made the treaty with us and whose descendents wish to deny historical sacred agreements to which all parties agreed.

The current Supreme Court ruling made the following statements about consulation:

First Peoples do not have a veto over development and the consultation and accommodation;

The process has to be meaningful; and it has to try to achieve the goal of Reconciliation between First Peoples and the Crown.

Our position asks how the process can be meaningful, if consultation and accommodation is only a formality and the project is a foregone conclusion.

The consultation process then becomes meaningless, as the process doesn't allow you to say No to project that can jeopardize your way of life and to your environment.

Our consultation protocol calls for a referendum, and in a referendum, you have the choice to say yes or no as part of the principles of  democracy. How, then, if it has been recognized at the Superior Court level can this be denied to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug?

In the first decision the judge referred to irreparable harm for KI by the fact that we would be losing a valuable piece of property which could potentially form part of our treaty land entitlement settlement. If staking and drilling continue at this point, a third party interest would have been created in the territory.

Under the federal land claims policy, these lands would be off the table and we would have lost a potential valuable piece of land. That is irreparable harm.

How can there be reconciliation if the Crown continues to wage war on our aboriginal and treaty rights on a daily basis?