Ontario First Nations Seek Seats at Great Lakes Water Table

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - Discussions shaping the future of the Great Lakes watershed must include Ontario First Nations, the indigenous leaders are demanding. Leaders representing 50 First Nations sent a letter Thursday to Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay objecting to their exclusion from the Great Lakes Charter Annex.

Last month, Ontario, Quebec and seven of the eight Great Lakes states reached an agreement to limit the majority of water diversions from the lakes.

A side deal called the Charter Annex gives the Great Lakes state governors the power to veto proposed U.S. water diversions, but not Ontario or Quebec. The deal requires only that the two provinces be consulted about such proposals.

The various jurisdictions are in the midst of a 60 day public comment period reviewing the Annex Implementation Agreement that will govern the application of the Great Lakes Charter, Annex 2001.

“There is a need for the MNR [Ministry of Natural Resources] as representatives of the Crown to consult First Nations people and provide resources so we might jointly develop a consultation process,” said Grand Council Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians John Beaucage.

Grand Chief Denise Stonefish of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians said the native groups “expect the Crown to fulfill their obligation and duty to consult.”


Denise Stonefish is the first female Grand Chief in the history of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. She was elected May 25, 2005. (Photo courtesy AIAI)
“Last year, the Supreme Court defined a constitutional order, in which the Crown is require to negotiate with First Nations in a way that recognizes and accommodates First Nations rights,” Stonefish said.

First Nations leaders gathered Thursday on the front steps Toronto's Metro Hall Council Chambers in defiance of a public consultation forum that was taking place inside.

Two weeks ago, the Union of Ontario Indians served notice that they will assert title and jurisdiction over the Great Lakes basin.

In a June 29 resolution, First Nations Chiefs authorized their leadership to take "whatever political or legal action is required to protect rights and jurisdiction over the waters of the Great Lakes Basin."

That particular resolution was affirmed by the Assembly of First Nations at their annual General Assembly July 7 in Yellowknife. The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.


John Beaucage is Grand Council Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians. (Photo courtesy Ontario First Nations)
“This is much more than a jurisdictional dispute,” Beaucage said. “Anishinabek tradition gives our women responsibility as caretakers of the water, and they are telling us it is time to act to prevent furthering poisoning of our rivers and lakes that has been permitted by federal, provincial and state governments.”

The province of Ontario and the U.S. states bordering the Great Lakes have been negotiating an Implementation Agreement with respect to the Great Lakes Charter Annex 2001, a regime to determine such issues as the diversion of Great Lakes water.

The governors and premiers of Great Lakes states and provinces released the latest draft of the Annex Implementation Agreement June 30 for a 60 day public review period that will conclude August 28, 2005.

At the end of the 60 day public comment and review period, the governors' and premiers' staffs will review the comments and attempt to reach consensus on the agreements. If such consensus is reached, the finalized agreements will be submitted to the governors and premiers for their review and consideration later this year.

The final documents, if approved by all governors and premiers, will then provide a framework for each state and province to pass laws that will protect the Great Lakes Basin.

In the U.S., Congress will be asked to consent to any compact among the states.

No federal legislation is required in Canada.

In the United States, to meet the Annex commitment to develop "a broad based public participation program," an Advisory Committee was created with over 20 representatives from environmental, agricultural, municipal, shipping and industrial concerns.


David Ramsay, Ontario Minister of Natural Resources, is also the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
In addition to the Advisory Committee, the Working Group has also sought input from a Resource Group and observers that include representatives from federal agencies, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Commission and other governmental and related organizations.

Last summer, more than 30 public hearings were held in the Great Lakes basin and more than 10,000 public comments were received concerning the first draft of the Agreements.

Still the First Nations say they have been left out of the process.

The two organizations - the Union of Ontario Indians and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians - represent the majority of First Nations in the Great Lakes basin. The two tribal organizations want to participate in developing the consultation process, including funding, and resources to support that process.

The draft proposal consists of two elements:

  • The Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, a good-faith agreement among the 10 Great Lakes states and provinces

  • The Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact, the decision making standard to be used in evaluating future new or increased water uses is included in both the Agreement and the Compact.

    Some of the key changes in these revised draft agreements include:

  • A ban on diversions of water out of the basin with limited exceptions.

  • Each of the eight Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and Québec would implement common decision making standards governing new or increased water use proposals.

  • More of the decision making process for in-basin water uses will take place at the state and provincial level rather than at the regional level.

  • A procedure for regional review of the implementation of the agreements and resolution of disputes by the states and provinces.

  • Strengthened commitments to reduce demand for water and improve efficient use of water through requiring conservation of current and future water users.

    Ontario has passed strict laws banning water diversions. The province has also introduced tough rules for water taking and stronger conservation measures. These laws will not change.


    The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world's freshwater. (Photo courtesy Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)
    Ontario is now seeking a stronger environmental standard for regulating water uses across the basin that will significantly increase the control of water uses in the Great Lakes states. There is currently no such standard.

    “The revised Charter Annex agreements are fundamentally changed from the drafts released last year,” said Ramsay, Ontario's Minister of Natural Resources. “The new agreements ban diversions out of the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions governed by strict controls for communities and counties on the edge of the basin. We have set clear limits beyond which water cannot be taken.”

    All levels of government have a shared interest and responsibility to protect and conserve the waters of the Great Lakes Basin, Ramsay said - "bi-national, federal, state/provincial and municipal." First Nations were not listed as governments included in the process.

    The Ontario government is providing further opportunities for Ontarians of all ethnicities to comment on the draft Great Lakes Charter Annex agreements by holding three additional public information meetings, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced today.

    "Ontarians said they wanted greater protection for the Great Lakes and that's what the Ontario government negotiated," said Ramsay. "The additional meetings will provide even more opportunity for public input on these strengthened agreements."