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First Nation wins legal battle over clear-cutting

Leaders of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario are declaring a major legal in their decade-long fight over clear-cutting in their traditional territory.

Grassy Narrows leaders happy with Ontario Superior Court decision

John Cutfeet is silhouetted outside the provincial legislature in Toronto, on June 25, 2007, after a teepee was erected by members of the Grassy Narrows and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nations to draw attention to logging and mineral extraction on their traditional lands. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Leaders of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario are declaring a major legal victory in their decade-long fight over clear-cutting in their traditional territory.

Ontario's Superior Court ruled Wednesday that the province cannot authorize timber and logging if the operations infringe on federal treaty promises protecting aboriginal rights to traditional hunting and trapping.

Grassy Narrows has long argued it only agreed in 1873 to sign a treaty with Canada involving the Keewatin lands north of Kenora on a promise that the federal government would protect its traditional ways of life.

Grassy Narrows' lawyers said the ruling would have reverberations across Canada for other First Nations fighting to protect traditional lands.

Ontario has provincial jurisdiction over timber and mining rights.

The provincial government has for years been selling timber leases to large forestry companies that have clear-cut large swaths of the region.

Superior Court Justice Mary Sanderson ruled Ontario has no right to infringe on rights protected by federal treaty — and urged governments to live up to their promises.

Sanderson stopped short of issuing any injunctions or making any findings of fault against the Province of Ontario. More legal arguments are expect in the coming weeks over injunctions to prevent further logging.

There will also be a complicated impact assessment that will try to measure the cost of years of clear-cutting on the forest, animals and the people of Grassy Narrows.