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First Nations side with U.S.-imposed tariffs: government failed to compensate First Nations for harvesting on treaty lands, NAN spokesperson says. (Forestry: Special Report).

With their long-standing complaints on Canada's forestry policy having fallen on deaf ears, the Nishnawbe Aski Nations (NAN) has joined with British Columbia Aboriginals in taking a controversial stand in the ongoing Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute.

NAN has teamed up with the British Columbia Interior Alliance of Indigenous First Nations in entering the softwood lumber fray. Their claim to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is that senior levels of government have failed to adequately compensate First Nations after harvesting on their treaty lands, which amounts to an illegal subsidy of softwood lumber products.

"We have not received a penny of the wealth that is generated off the backs of our First Nations," says Evelyn Baxter Robinson, NAN's land and resources co-ordinator in Thunder Bay.

Their stand is a roundabout way to push for changes in forestry policy to create more jobs, wealth and business opportunities for First Nations peoples, she says.

"Our beef is not with the lumber industry...our beef is with the government.

"The province has a long history of ignoring Aboriginal and treaty rights," failing to take into consideration Aboriginal interests in the land through a 1905 treaty signed regarding "our right to use the land for our traditional pursuits, all of which is protected under the Constitution," says Baxter Robinson.

Under the treaty, each individual First Nations member receives $4 a year as compensation for sharing the land with the province, the same as in 1905.

"The federal government has obviously fallen down miserably in upholding their obligations to indigenous peoples at home and abroad...So we've taken it up a notch and we need to get our voice heard in the international arena because we can't seem to get anyone to listen to us in our own country," she says.

Earlier this year, NAN, which represents 49 First Nations communities in Northern Ontario, sided with the B.C. Interior Alliance of Indigenous First Nations in supporting its submission to the World Trade Organization.

The submission was accepted by the WTO.

So NAN prepared a submission of their own, which was rejected by the WTO in late May.

Officially, NAN was told their report, entitled a third-party submission, was wrong and they were informed they were not recognized as a member government of the WTO and therefore did not have third-party status.

Robinson suspects there was some behind-the-scenes lobbying done by either Canada or the U.S. to suppress any more Aboriginal briefs.

"So we revised the document according to the suggestions made by the secretary of the WTO and resubmitted it, the same day as the rejection, and we haven't heard anything since."

Baxter Robinson says the areas south of the 50th parallel, comprising at least half of the treaty lands of the 49 First Nations, have seen "harvesting beyond reclamation" through clearcuts that have desecrated some people's trap lines.

"Silviculture is questionable at best.

"We have not received any compensation for past infringements on our rights, nor any shares from the revenues generated from our territories.

"Any economic benefits some First Nations have received have been at the cost of huge fights, such as highway blockages and other means of protest.

"Really it's quite mind-boggling how Ontario sustainably manages its forests."

She expects the WTO will be releasing its findings sometime in July and anticipates the losing country will launch an appeal.

"That appeal process is obviously another open door for us to take advantage of.

"We don't know whether that appeal process will come in the form of a special appellant body or another panel.

The appeal process should take about 18 months.
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Article Details
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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