TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 20, 2013) - As many Canadians prepare for summer trips to camp grounds and cottages, the First Nations community and its allies will be building off of the strength of the Idle No More movement to mobilizing actions across Ontario and Canada demanding rights, justice and dignity. The Ontario Federation of Labour proudly continues to stand with the First Nations community and, on the occasion of National Aboriginal Day, calls on the governments of Ontario and Canada to pay more than lip service to a community that has been put into crisis by Canada's legacy of colonialism.
"First Nations land and human rights are under daily threat by aggressive developers, mining corporations and governments that are complicit in undermining treaty obligations," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "The humanitarian crisis facing so many of Ontario's Aboriginal communities is an international shame. Boil water alerts, record unemployment, rampant poverty and abysmal access to public services like education and health care are the byproducts of exploitation and our governments have an obligation to take immediate action."
Last year saw modest victories for the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation on Big Trout Lake after a high profile campaign forced the Ontario government to cancel mining contracts awarded to Toronto-Based God's Lake Resources. However, just as First Nations activists and their allies celebrated this success, the Harper government tabled a devastating omnibus budget, Bill C45, that violated First Nations treaty rights, as well as human rights. The extensive legislation brought significant changes to the Indian Act, including changes to land management on reserves, granting the federal government more power to control reserve lands and reducing the protection of millions of rivers and lakes across Canada. This affront to First Nations sovereignty and environmental stewardship triggered the Idle No More movement - a nation-wide, grass roots campaign to defend Aboriginal human and territorial rights. The labour movement has proudly supported Idle No More and will continue to mobilize along-side Canada's First Peoples.
"The Harper government has passed draconian legislation without proper consultation with the Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit peoples," said OFL Executive Vice-President Irwin Nanda. "The Harper Conservatives are not only threatening to lease reserved lands and undermine on-reserve voting rights, they have scrapped the Navigable Waters Protection Act and put millions of rivers and lakes that form Canada's eco-system into jeopardy. Ontario workers are united with the First Nations community in protecting collective rights, environmental protections and the land we share."
Over the last two decades, Canada's Aboriginal population has grown by 45 percent compared to an eight percent growth rate for non-Aboriginals. Yet the 2012 Poverty Trends Scorecard released by Citizens for Public Justice indicates that, along with recent immigrants, peoples of colour, and persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples continue to face higher levels of poverty and are at higher risk of long-term poverty. In many Aboriginal communities, like that of the Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek on the Grassy Narrows' English-Wabigoon River, toxic contamination caused by Canadian resource industries have put people and the eco-system at serious risk. With Federal protection of Canada's waterways significantly diluted, crises like the one in Grassy Narrows could become even more common.
"It is only through solidarity that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals workers and community members will be able to ensure that Canada lives up to its treaty obligations and takes meaningful action towards eliminating poverty," said OFL Vice-President Representing Aboriginal People. "Together we have a responsibility to alleviate poverty, protect the environment, guarantee the education rights of Aboriginal children and launch a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women. Canada's legacy must be one of justice, not colonialism and exploitation."
Across Ontario, workers are joining First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in celebrating June 21 as National Aboriginal Day by calling for social, economic and environmental justice. The Ontario Federation of Labour is also recognizing the important contributions that Aboriginal people have made to our workplaces, our communities and the labour movement.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.