A case before the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday could determine the future of resource extraction in much of the country.
Grassy Narrows First Nation, in northwestern Ontario, is challenging Ontario’s right to issue logging or mining permits on their treaty lands.
Councillor Rudy Turtle said clear cutting of trees near his home has ruined trap lines and scared away the moose in the area.
“If someone can’t get a moose, they have to rely on store-bought food, which is unhealthy and very expensive,” Turtle said.
"Whenever someone kills a moose, it's their supply of meat for their whole family for the winter.”
The First Nation argued successfully in an Ontario court that their treaty rights to hunt, trap and fish are “subject only to limits placed by the federal government,” as laid out in Treaty 3. Ontario appealed the decision and won, then Grassy Narrows took it to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Clear cutting on trap lines
The lawyer for Grassy Narrows said the case will lay out the responsibility of the federal government “to try to help sort things out between the non-Aboriginal people who want to use resources and the Aboriginal people who are also using those resources.”
Robert Janes said “what Grassy Narrows wants more than anything is to maintain its community ... a protection of its traditional way of life and finding a way of building a local, sustainable economy.”
Turtle said the unemployment rate in Grassy Narrows is close to 80 per cent.
“There has been clear cutting in people’s trap lines and some of our people have been unable to trap because there’s nothing to trap,” he said.
Mercury poisoning from a Dryden pulp mill ruined the fishery more than 40 years ago.
‘Benefits of forestry go to Toronto’
The court will have to decide “what's the right balance between a traditional way of life and maintaining a local economy,” Janes said.
“As opposed to advancing the goals of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which may very well see many of the benefits of forestry go to Toronto or other distant communities in Ontario.”
A decision isn’t expected in the case for several months.
Meanwhile, Ontario has plans to issue new logging permits in the Whiskey Jack Forest, near Grassy Narrows.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources said the plan was scheduled for implementation April 1, but is now under review by the Ministry of Environment.
An earlier version of the story suggested that Ontario appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.May 16, 2014 11:50 AM ET