By Amanda Rabski McColl
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
Lawrence Martin, a Juno award-winning musician and former master chef, says that sometimes it takes working within the systems in place to make a difference.
Martin was one of the speakers at the recent Omuskego Youth Treaty Conference in Timmins.
“Everyone has opinions about what the treaty is,” Martin said.
“But when we look at the legal definition of what a treaty is, from an international perspective, it indicates that it is a legally binding agreement between countries. Countries. Does that mean we are part of a county? We have to be.”
Difficult treaty interpretation has been part of Martin’s career for decades, and the lessons he shared with young people focused on the 22 words that were put into Treaty 9 which read:
“Excepting such lands as may be required or occupied from time to time for settlement, mining, logging, commerce or other purposes.”
“That’s why Ontario or Canada can come into your territory and build dams,” Martin explained.
The James Bay Treaty, Treaty 9, covers 90,000 square miles in Northern Ontario. It includes Timmins, which is located on the traditional lands of the Mattagami First Nation. For aboriginal peoples, he promised $4 each per year. The annual payment remains the same today.
Treaty 9 was first signed in 1905 and 1906 between the First Nations of Northern Ontario, the Canadian government and the provincial government. In 1929 and 1930, memberships were made. It has the distinction of being the only treaty signed by the province.
Martin was the first Aboriginal mayor in Ontario in a community outside of First Nations lands when he was elected mayor of Sioux Outlook in 1991. He first became Grand Chief of Mushkegowuk Council in 1998 and served as served until 2001. He was elected Mayor of Cochrane and served there until 2010, and his second term as Grand Chief began in 2014.
Throughout his political career, he worked within the political and legal system to defend his people.
He has been involved in legal actions to hold the federal government accountable for treaty promises, including a 1999 case where First Nations leaders argued the government failed to live up to its responsibility for the well-being of First Nations in the purchase of Rupert’s Land. .
“Court documents were filed, and we were advised that they had been received by Canada, and they would be returned to us,” Martin said. “It’s been 20 years and we still haven’t heard back.”
The dispute over hunting rights on the Chapleau Crown Game Reserve showed the resolve of Martin and his companions when, in 2000, they deliberately staged a ceremonial moose hunt in an attempt to get themselves arrested. and to draw attention to the issue of land rights in the region.
“We’re going to break your law because you broke the law that we had,” Martin said of the confrontation.
Martin read a statement about their sovereignty while four men from the group were arrested by game wardens.
When the Mike Harris government made drastic cuts to Ontario Works, Mushkegowuk council’s legal team was able to use a section of the Indian Act to circumvent the cuts, because the council had not been consulted in a plan that directly affected their people.
They won their case and the council had two years to set up its own welfare system.
“We ran out of time,” Martin said.
He said he later learned that the Department of Indian Affairs allegedly worked against the project and against self-government.
Although the work can be frustrating, Martin said it was worth shedding light on the truth.
The discovery of MacMartin’s journals is an example.
When the Treaty 9 diary, written by Ontario Treaty Commissioner Daniel George MacMartin, was discovered at Queen’s University, it indicated that Indigenous peoples had been promised that they could hunt and fish where good seemed to them.
“What those newspapers were saying was exactly what our elders were telling us,” Martin said.
Martin says these battles are still going on today and that young people need to be aware of them in order to maintain their rights, exercise them and know how to fight for them.
“We must continue to prove that the oral traditions of our people are just as legally valid as anything that is written.”
Amanda Rabski-McColl is a Reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative with the
TIMMINSTODAY.COM. The LJI program is funded by the federal government.
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