A powerful coalition of Indigenous Nations are joining forces to push back against unilateral decision-making over natural resources by the Ontario government. Are you in?
The names given to the vast peatlands of Ontario’s north are “Yehewin Aski" and "Bakitanaamowin Aki," meaning the Breathing Lands. It’s an incredibly powerful evocation of the life-giving role of a vital ecosystem that has sustained Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial.
Successive settler governments have run roughshod over Indigenous Peoples' Treaty No. 9 rights for over a century. The settler governments have gained wealth from exploiting the resources in Treaty No. 9, which has resulted in severe impoverishment for First Nations. The Ontario government is still trying to fast-track rapid industrial development on Indigenous lands, pushing for permits to mine, deforest, build roads, and dam rivers without the consent of Indigenous Nations.
Now: Indigenous Peoples are saying, "enough". A coalition of several Nations ("Plaintiff Nations") are taking Ontario and Canada to court to press for co-jurisdiction in Treaty No. 9 territory, giving them greater decision-making power over resource extraction projects on their lands. Their strategic treaty-rights case aims at protecting the largest intact boreal forest in the world — a carbon storehouse as globally significant as the Amazon rainforest.
A win for the Plaintiff Nations is a win for us all. This case will be a game-changer as the Plaintiff Nations demand their right to self-determination to protect the lands and waters that give us all life.
Will you act in solidarity with Indigenous Nations to protect the Breathing Lands?
Breathing Lands artwork by Christi Belcourt
Breathing Lands artwork by Christi Belcourt
Will you be a Breathing Lands protector?
At the Heart of the Matter
Treaty No. 9 protects Indigenous Peoples right to govern the life-giving lands they have stewarded since time immemorial. While government and industry are rushing to exploit resources in Treaty No. 9 territory, the Plaintiff Nations are pushing the court to recognize that their own Indigenous laws, protocols, and governance authority (jurisdiction) still apply.
They are asking the court to:
- Issue injunctions to stop any resource-related permitting before Indigenous consent is given.
- Provide compensation for damages caused by over a century of resource extraction.
- Recognize a legal requirement that First Nations must give their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to any development in Treaty No. 9 territory.
The Plaintiff Nations want to be respected as the final decision makers as to where, when, and how resources are extracted on their territories. They are going to court to prove that Treaty No. 9 protects their rights to sovereignty, a way of life, and jurisdiction to protect their land.
Ten Nations have agreed to sign on to the legal challenge so far, including:
- Attawapiskat First Nation
- Aroland First Nation
- Ginoogaming First Nation
- Kashechewan First Nation
- Apitipi Anicinapek Nation
- Fort Albany First Nation
- Neskantaga First Nation
- Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation
- Constance Lake First Nation
- Eabametoong First Nation
Legal challenges are expensive, and the settler governments that the Plaintiff Nations are facing in court have deep pockets. The fate of the ‘lungs of the north’ depends on the Plaintiff Nations' ability to access justice. It’s up to everyone — individuals, organizations, and businesses — to come together to back this strategic legal challenge.
What would a win for the Breathing Lands case achieve?
This case will be a game-changer in terms of how decision-making happens in northern Ontario. A win for the Plaintiff Nations would create a legal requirement for Indigenous consent to any development in Treaty No. 9 territory, strengthening Indigenous sovereignty over 330,000 sq kms of land.
A legal win for the Plaintiff Nations would also give credit to what Indigenous Peoples have said all along about the numbered Treaties – that the written text is not what signatories agreed to. Indigenous signatories verbally agreed that they would share the land with settlers, not cede it. This interpretation could set a precedent for all numbered Treaty Nations, possibly resulting in greater jurisdictional powers for Indigenous Nations in about 2/3rds of Canada.
The Plaintiff Nations are breaking new ground in the growing movement for justice, equitable resource sharing, and environmental protection: their victory will uphold Indigenous rights and achieve climate justice for future generations.
RAVEN is calling on all people, everywhere, to support Indigenous People’s efforts to protect the precious rivers, forest, wetlands, and peatlands that give us all life.
“Yehewin is your breathing. The wetlands do the same thing. It’s like the lungs of Mother Earth: it cleans the air, it provides us with freshness, it keeps the Earth cool.”
— Vern Cheechoo
The heart of the case is the interpretation of Treaty No. 9. as it concerns co-jurisdiction. The written version of Treaty No. 9 says that First Nations under the Treaty must “cede, release, surrender, or yield up their rights to the land." This interpretation contradicts what the Plaintiff Nations understood when signing the Treaty. Evidence of the oral agreement that was reached shows that Indigenous leaders agreed to share the land with settlers, so long as they preserved bimaadiziwin in Ojibwe or pimaatisiium in Cree — happiness, prosperity, and protection of their traditional way of life.
This case aims to prove that an interpretation of Treaty No. 9 as an agreement for co-jurisdiction — not surrender — of lands means that today, Indigenous Nations must play a meaningful role in determining the fate of their homelands.