RAVEN - Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs

Grassy Narrows 1

Grassy Narrows First Nation v Ontario (Minister of Natural Resources)

Year: 2014

Court: Supreme Court of Canada

Citation: 2014 SCC 48 

Location: ON

TAGS: Treaty Rights; Natural Resources

Both the federal and provincial governments exercise power over treaty lands in conformity with their respective fiduciary obligations and their respective legislative jurisdictions.


In 1873, Treaty 3 was signed by Chiefs of the Ojibway and treaty commissioners acting on behalf of the Dominion of Canada. Through the treaty, the Ojibway yielded ownership of their territory, except for certain lands reserved to them, in exchange for annuity payments, goods, and the right to harvest on the surrendered lands until the lands were taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering, or other purposes by the Government of the Dominion of Canada. In 1912, the land in question, the Keewatin area, was annexed to Ontario. Ontario has issued a forestry license in this area. Grassy Narrows First Nation, the descendants of the Ojibway signatories to Treaty 3, have challenged the legal right of Ontario to take up lands in the Keewatin area under Treaty 3. 

The Supreme Court of Canada held that Ontario has the authority to take up lands in the Keewatin area for provincial purposes and limit the harvesting rights set out in Treaty 3. Ontario is not required to seek approval of the federal government. Ontario is required to regulate the land in accordance with the treaty and with its obligations under s.35 of the Constitution Act 1982. Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 recognizes and affirmed existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Why this Case Matters:

Grassy Narrows First Nation v Ontario (Minister of Natural Resources) sets out that, due to the nature of federalism in Canada, the provincial governments can act in matters under their jurisdiction despite the presence of treaties between Indigenous nations and the government of Canada. However, provincial governments are required to meet the obligations under the treaty and their obligations towards Indigenous nations under the Constitution. 

The presence of treaty between Canada and an Indigenous nation does not exclude the province from acting in matters under its jurisdiction. The province is not required to seek federal approval before acting matters under its jurisdiction despite the presence of a treaty signed between Canada and an Indigenous nation. However, the presence of a treaty between Canada and an Indigenous Nation also does not allow the province to act without restraint. The provincial government must act in accordance with treaty and constitutional obligations.  

Supreme Court Judgment:


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