A ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday will help determine who controls resource extraction across much of the country.
- Supreme Court to rule Friday on logging rights in Grassy Narrows case
- Grassy Narrows takes logging fight to Supreme Court
Grassy Narrows First Nation, north of Kenora, Ont., is arguing that the province does not have the right to issue logging or mining permits on its traditional lands.
"After years of trying to get the [forest] industry and the minister of natural resources to take it easy on the forest, we decided to launch a court case," said trapper J.B. Fobister, one of the plaintiffs in the case that was launched in 2000.
Fobister said many people in Grassy Narrows need the forest to make a living. He estimates he makes up to $10,000 a year trapping pine marten. Some families rely on moose as a major food source.
But Fobister said industrial logging in the area interferes with all of that.
'There is no plan to replace what is taken from us' - Trapper J.B. Fobister
"If you have no forest, you don't have animals," he said. "We need to see some benefits from the destruction of our homeland. There is no plan to replace what is taken from us."
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. Grassy Narrows took the case to the Supreme Court in May.
The court will have to decide “what's the right balance between a traditional way of life and maintaining a local economy,” lawyer Robert Janes said at the time.
“As opposed to advancing the goals of the [Ontario] Ministry of Natural Resources, which may very well see many of the benefits of forestry go to Toronto or other distant communities in Ontario,” Janes said.
The case is expected to have wide-reaching implications because Grassy Narrows is a signatory to Treaty 3.
Signed in 1873, Treaty 3 contains similar wording to all the numbered treaties that followed, covering lands stretching across Ontario to Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
"So if this treaty is found to be a boiler plate...then it does have applications across the board," strategist and lawyer Bill Gallagher said.
The former treaty negotiator theorizes that First Nations are on a "winning streak" with the courts and that even the lower court ruling in this case amounts to a win.
Gallagher said the Ontario Superior Court ruling will push all provinces to use a practice of "honourable management" when it comes to resource extraction on treaty lands.
"When another oilsands project comes on, the Alberta government will be bound by the duty of honourable land management in the taking up of those land rights," Gallagher said.
Fobister said he'll be waiting anxiously at home near his trapline on Friday for news of the Supreme Court ruling.
He said he'll know Grassy Narrows won something from the years of fighting in the courts if in the end "we have more say on what happens in our forest."