Indigenous prisoners of conscience

Written by David

Topics: Frontline Communities

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Earlier this week 6 political leaders of the Indigenous Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation were sentenced to 6 months in jail for refusing to allow mining and exploration on their traditional lands.

Cecelia Begg being taken to jail

KI councilor Cecilia Begg, the only woman among the KI six, is now all alone in the Thunder Bay District jail, a notorious jail that has seen 3 aboriginal deaths in the last 4 years.

Please take action to support the KI six.

You can write letters to Cecilia at:

Thunder Bay Detention Centre
Highway 61 South
PO Box 1900
Thunder Bay ON
P7C 4Y4

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

March 20, 2008 Thursday

Are the KI Six outlaws or prisoners of conscience?

BYLINE: RACHEL ARISS, Legal specialist in the Department of Sociology
at Lakehead University

As of this week, Chief Donny Morris and five other band council members
of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation sit in jail. They were
sentenced on Monday to six months in prison by Mr. Justice Patrick
Smith of the Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay.

So what “crime” did they commit?

KI First Nation leaders signed Treaty 9 in 1929 to protect their
ability to feed themselves in their homeland (600 kilometres northwest
of Thunder Bay) by hunting, fishing and trapping, and to prevent the
encroachment of early miners and loggers. The native community saw the
treaty as a peaceful way to share the land with newcomers, while
remaining connected to the land’s sustenance and sacredness.

But in the winter of 2005-06, Platinex, a mining-exploration company,
tried to drill on land for which it had staked a claim pursuant to
Ontario’s mining laws but which land also is subject to Treaty 9. KI
First Nation members protested on the site, preventing the drilling
from proceeding. The company sued for damages and sought an injunction
to prevent further protests.

It was the KI First Nation, however, that received an interim
injunction based on the irreparable harm it would suffer if drilling
went ahead as Platinex had planned. The injunction was granted on
condition that the parties negotiate toward an agreement that would
allow Platinex to drill. Ontario joined as intervenor, talks between
the three parties followed, but no agreement could be reached.

The court lifted the injunction last May and imposed an agreement,
proposed by Platinex and Ontario. KI First Nation members were ordered
to allow Platinex onto their land to drill. When they did not do this,
they were found in contempt of court.

In other words, when the people of the KI First Nation asserted their
treaty rights – to secure sustenance from the land, to live on the land
in accordance with their spiritual beliefs, and to share the land, as
equals, with the newcomers – their leaders were jailed.

How did it come to this?

Three laws converge in this place.

The first, since time immemorial and the one that is sacred to the
people of KI, is to follow the duty given to them by the Creator to
protect the land for future generations. According to this law, the
people of KI did not have to follow the court order. In all conscience,
they could not allow Platinex to drill.

Exploratory drilling – and its accompanying noise, campsite, drill pad,
machinery, fuel drums, helicopters and trucks – poses an unacceptable
risk of damaging the Big Trout Lake area, a place of reliable hunting
and fishing sites, trap lines, regular berry harvesting and burials of
still-remembered family members.

The second law, Treaty 9, was a covenant made between equals to share
the land, allowing both peoples to live peacefully together. According
to this law (and the Supreme Court has affirmed that governments must
consult with and accommodate first nations before doing anything that
may infringe treaty rights), it is the Ontario government and Platinex
that have to do things differently. Jailing the KI leadership will not
lead Ontario to properly consult with and accommodate the community’s
concerns – it may do the opposite.

The third law is Ontario’s Mining Act, with its outdated free-entry
staking system. The contradiction between the Mining Act and KI’s
treaty rights is key to understanding why the native leaders are in

The act allows anyone to stake a claim anywhere on Crown land and, as
soon as it is filed with the government, it is valid. The act does not
mention that all Crown land in Ontario is governed by treaties with
first nations people. It doesn’t even include the minimal first step of
requiring companies or the ministry to communicate with first nations
about exploration. The system makes money for Ontario and, especially,
for mining companies.

Ontario has long resisted fulfilling its treaty promises, perhaps
hoping that impoverished remote communities will not fight for their
rights. Its pattern has been to resist until there is a crisis, until
the damage of broken trust with aboriginal peoples has been entrenched
- Ipperwash and Caledonia are the most recent and most publicized
evidence of this pattern.

Ontario has failed in its duty to consult, accommodate and, more
important, to reconcile with first nations communities across the
province. First nations people and their supporters are tired of this
deliberate failure.

Many aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in this province want to find
a way forward, out of the poverty, racism and despair facing many first
nations communities, toward living together peacefully and

Some of these folks were at the courthouse in Thunder Bay on Monday.
Others attended the courthouse in Kingston when Bob Lovelace, a member
of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, was sentenced in February to six
months in jail for opposing mining exploration on his community’s
traditional lands. We will not go away.

The KI Six have been in jail since Monday. They are in jail because
they believe they have a spiritual duty to protect the land for future
generations, and they believe that drilling the land is not protecting
it. They are in jail because they believe they have legally
recognizable treaty rights that remain meaningful as long as they can
maintain their homeland in its pristine state.

The KI Six are prisoners of conscience.

Clearly, the dispute between the KI First Nation and Platinex is a
crisis. But a Band-Aid solution from Ontario is not enough. It is time
for all of us, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to stand up with the KI
community and demand justice, and to continue demanding justice until
we have true reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal
people in Ontario.

12 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. David Peerla says:

    We all need to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Cecilia Begg and the other members of the KI Six.

    The Ontario government have placed Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug leader Cecilia Begg in harms way by standing on the sidelines and watching the Court sentence her to 6 months in a jail that has been described as a “hell hole”.

    This is an act of violence against a First Nations woman. Cecilia Begg is not a criminal, she is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of her beliefs about her community’s laws and her duty to protect the land.

    I am outraged. Cecilia Begg’s actions were guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and now she has been jailed for six months.

    Mrs Begg is one of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Innuwug Six, six KI leaders who were sentenced to six months in jail this week for disobeying a court order that imposed a mining project on the community without the First Nation’s free, prior and informed consent.

    There have been three aboriginal deaths in the Thunder Bay District Jail over the last 4 years.

    The Thunder Bay District jail fails to comply with the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

    Free Cecilia Now!
    Free the KI Six!

  2. Randle Nelsen says:

    Rachel Ariss and David Peerla have said what needs to be said. I fully support their statements and call for the release of prisoners of conscience/political prisoners Bob Lovelace and the KI Six. In addition I want to note how difficult it is for me to describe the heavy-hearted sadness I felt upon leaving the Thunder Bay courthouse following Monday’s sentencing. I was ashamed to witness these pretentious and demeaning court proceedings that reinforced a corporate business-driven political agenda that continues to hide behind a mask of the so-called political neutrality of legal justice. Its supposed “civilizing influence” was lost on me and others who witnessed this latest attack on the people of our First Nations. I left the proceedings ashamed of being a Canadian for the first time since I became a citizen eighteen months ago. The first step in winning back my trust in “the system” and beginning a new chapter in our relations with First Nations’ peoples is for the government to release these prisoners of conscience immediately.
    Free Cecilia Begg Now!
    Free the KI Six!

  3. Athough, it is hard for the people to understand, the fact that Chief Donny Morris and his council are in jail is the best thing for their people. Now world wide attention will be bought to the matter. I sent out the following letter yesterday on Roseau River Letterhead.

    Time for Action, not Talk!
    March 20, 2008

    Chief Terrance Nelson is taking the position that when Anishinabe people are sitting in jail for defending the resources of their lands from thieves, it is time for First Nations to take action. Today Rachel Ariss writes in the Globe and Mail “As of this week, Chief Donny Morris and five other band council members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation sit in jail. They were sentenced on Monday to six months in prison by Mr. Justice Patrick Smith of the Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay.”
    Chief Nelson said “Now is not the time to talk about another National Day of Action, we must respond and respond immediately with clear intent to this act of aggression on the part of the immigrants.” The Treaties signed with the immigrants were a framework of peaceful co-existence, we agreed to share our lands with the newcomers, we did not agree to impoverish ourselves by giving everything away to the immigrants. Make no mistake, jailing our people is an act of aggression, it is a clear breach of the treaty framework and we as Chiefs of all 633 First Nations in Canada must signal our willingness to go to jail in defence of our right to live in peace and to share in the wealth of our lands.
    With crude oil prices at a $107 a barrel and the Alberta Tarsands holding 1.4 to 1.6 trillion barrels of oil, there is no shortage of resource wealth in Canada. We as indigenous people have encountered absolute greed on the part of the immigrants who continue to rob and pillage our people of the wealth of our lands and resources. Americans account for 72% of all foreign investment in Canada. The benefits of the 60 different metals and minerals mined in Canada flow to the immigrants without any regard to the rights of the original owners of the lands and resources.
    Americans are paying $1.4 billion a day for foreign oil, over half a trillion dollars a year, the fear for US National Security is that Americans paying $4 a gallon are financing future terrorist activity by paying trillions of dollars in the next decade to unstable countries. We as indigenous peoples in Canada must Wake up the Americans, we must collectively take the position that no Canadian oil will flow to the United States without some respect for the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples north of the border and that must be made clear to the Americans.

    The time for talk is over if Chiefs and council members are being jailed for defending their right to be consulted and accommodated. The Supreme Court of Canada has already decided in numerous decisions that development cannot take place without the permission of the affected First Nations. To jail our people is not only illegal, it is immoral and it is the first step to ending the peaceful co-existence that the Treaties have brought to Canada. For Canadians to idly stand by and watch a middle-east type of violence come to these lands is beyond stupidity, it is crime against our future generations to disregard the benefits of treaties.
    Chief Terrance Nelson will take action by
    -skipping the Treaty Conference in Saskatoon next week as a exercise in futility when the Minister of Indian Affairs has already stated that he has no ability to address the real issues of our people being in jail
    -joining American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks in the Longest Walk II, the walk across America, where we will take the opportunity to directly tell the Americans what is happening in Canada.
    -taking a position that no pipelines will cross Treaty One Territory until the Crown upholds the law as decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, on the need to consult and accommodate. The annual $47 billion worth of crude meant for the American market on the Enbridge and TransCanada pipelines will not cross our territory without the Crown fulfilling its duty to consult and accommodate.
    -American companies doing business in Canada, exploiting our resources, will be forced to tell their share holders the truth of how much risk is involved in jailing the indigenous people. Investment stability in Canada is key to negotiations.
    Burning cars on railway lines across Canada is possible. Last year in the National Day of Action, we as chiefs asked Canadians to take seriously the bitterness we felt. We don’t want the white man’s money, we want a rightful share of our wealth, the wealth of our lands and resources as agreed to in the treaties. We urge Canadians not to allow an end to peaceful co-existence. Canada is in the “Trillion Dollar Club”, the nine richest countries in the world that account for 68% of the world economy. We cannot and will not allow our people to continue to suffer at the 63rd level of the United Nations living index while our resource wealth flows south of the border and seems to benefit only the immigrants to our lands.
    For Further Information
    Contact Chief Terrance Nelson

    Platinex must be forced to stand before its shareholders and explain why they think jailing indigenous people is the right image for their company. Platinex is a publicly traded company raising money on the stock market. They will ogo under if they are forced to paid the highest prices for investment in what is now high risk investment.

  4. alex says:

    Shame on me and on every other citizen of Onatario, and on everyone else for allowing this injustice to stand. The arrest of a community’s leadership, at a time when they are trying to resist the encroachment of corporate power to exploit the land, is nothing but a flagrant display of colonial intimidation. The government is sending a message that they intend to oppose, in egregious ways, attempts by First Nations to assert their rights. This is part of a long, long pattern in Canada and everywhere else colonialism has sunk its claws. And it will continue unless we all refuse to allow it to. Those of us with privilege and the power to defend the land and justice must do so, and in Ontario we must do so now. Chief Nelson is absolutely right, it is most definitely, “time for action, not talk.” Lets get on this one before its too late.

  5. Jessica Bell says:

    The actions of the Ontario Government to prioritize laws that benefit corporations and profit seekers over pre-existing laws that respect indigenous rights and self determination are actions of a racist government run by racist minds. Free the KI Six, and stop all mining activity on indigenous land unless full, free and prior consent has been obtained.

  6. abslutely ridiculous how could this happen in this day and age abslute stupidity by the government total disregard and no respect for an aboriginal

  7. cal reeves says:

    Canada needs to keep to the terms of their treaty with the tribe they made it with; otherwise, the are no better than the united states

  8. elaine trovato says:

    I want to convey my support and my promise to pray for this group and all indigenous people. Simlarities between this situation involving greed at the corporate and government levels and exploitation of land that native people depend upon make me increasingly concerned. I once respected the Canadian government but with the way they are allowing assaults against people, flora and fauna I am bitterly disappointed and will continue to hope for better decisions to come regarding these issues in the future.

  9. Rick Book says:

    This jail sentence is an obscenity. Here is the letter I send to Premier Dalton McGuinty and ministers yesterday. (please feel free to edit.) Rick

    March 30, 2008

    The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
    Premier of Ontario
    Legislative Building
    Queen’s Park
    Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

    Dear Mr. Premier,

    Thanks to you and your government, I am ashamed to be a citizen of this province.

    Six of our fellow Ontarians have now spent two weeks in jail for simply standing up and protecting their traditional land and community from corporate intrusion, exploitation and environmental contamination.

    You know who they are: Chief Donny Morris, Samuel McKay, Jack McKay, Bruce Sakakeep and Daryl Sainnawap who are in the Thunder Bay Detention Centre, and Cecilia Begg who is in the disgusting Thunder Bay District Jail.

    These leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation were found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to six months in jail for violating an injunction secured by Platinex and your government.

    Imprisoning these men and women is a travesty, a gross miscarriage of justice. It ignores the historic right of Aboriginal people, covenanted in Treaty 9, to enjoy their traditional land. It mocks the Supreme Court of Canada’s affirmation of their right to be consulted about proposed development. It also demonstrates the hollowness of your government’s claim through the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines that it wants to develop a more effective Aboriginal Consultation Approach for Mineral Sector Activities.

    Your support of Platinex echoes the age-old attitudes of greed, arrogance and racism toward Aboriginal people and their lands. By sending these leaders, husbands, fathers, wife and mother to jail, you’ve shown Ontarians what you really think about consultation with Aboriginal people.
    Surely this also violates the spirit of the historic Memorandum of Understanding just signed by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to work together and improve the lives and local economies of First Nations peoples. The Mining Association of Canada and the AFN also signed a Letter of Intent last fall to work toward a Memorandum of Understanding. Why is the government of Ontario so out of step with the wishes of Canada’s leading prospectors, developers, miners and Aboriginal leaders? Why have you deliberately sabotaged opportunities to consult, accommodate and reconcile with the KI community, and others?
    I urge you to immediately: release these six leaders, affirm and respect their right to create and enforce protocols for dealing with requests for exploration and development on traditional Aboriginal land, halt all further activity by Platinex in the disputed area, and amend the Mining Act to ensure that this 19th century thinking – including the free-entry staking system – is not tolerated again in this province.

    I am a 58-year old non-Aboriginal, the father of a computer engineer and a law student. There will no justice in Ontario for my children or for anyone until there is justice and fairness and respect for all Aboriginal people.

    You can start repairing this damage and healing lives by releasing the KI 6 now.

    Yours truly,

    Rick Book
    3 – 2387 Queen Street East
    Toronto, ON M4E 1H5
    T: 416-698-7051

    Cc: The Honourable Chris Bentley, Attorney-General
    The Honourable Michael Bryant, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs
    The Honourable Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development & Mines
    Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation

  10. I would like to see more news on the very real issues that have been going on for far too long for First Nation people. If people are unaware of what is going on then it makes it even harder to make real positive changes.

    I would like to take this opportunity to mention about an initiative that aims to help address these issues on a national level called The Standing Proud Project, to learn more please visit:

  11. Ernie C del Castillo says:

    I’m NOT a Canadian Citizen nor a resident of Canada. I’m simply a Filipino Senior Citizen believing that CANADA is one shining example of a “Working Democracy” – respectful of all Democratic Principles inclusive of the principle of “Fair Play”. I can’t believe that existing valid Treaties could simply be ignored for Economic Reasons.

  12. micheal boucher says:


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