A strategist and lawyer argues the recent court ruling against Grassy Narrows should actually be considered a victory for First Nations.
On Monday, Ontario's Court of Appeal said the provincial government has the authority to issue logging permits on Grassy Narrows traditional territory, overturning a previous Superior Court decision that had sided with the First Nation.
But lawyer Bill Gallagher said the ruling also defines Ontario's duty to consult with First Nations on the use of traditional land, and sets out "major obligations" for the Crown -- a clarification he said has been missing until now.
"I think it's a significant win," Gallagher said, pointing to the court decision's wording about how the province must use "honourable management" when dealing with traditional First Nations territories.
The ruling states that Ontario "cannot take up lands so as to deprive the First Nation signatories of a meaningful right to harvest in their traditional territories." It also says the government must consult with First Nations.
"That is a pretty pro-native set of rules that the crown now has to follow," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said although the clarification applies to Treaty 3 land, which includes Grassy Narrows First Nation, he expects it will also apply to Treaty 9 land, where the Ring of Fire is located. He said First Nations will now be able cite "honourable management" obligations for government and industry in mining exploration and development.
In turn, Gallagher said, the ruling could guide the Ontario government in its relations with First Nations in Ring of Fire development. "There's a number a paragraphs written out in boiler plate in this decision that make it very clear as to how the parties have to engage," he said. "And when you add that to the new and progressive... regulations for exploration and prospecting, this indeed could be a break with the past and a new opportunity."