Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders meeting in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. – Photo by Kayla Karn.

By Leslie Knibbs

ATIKAMEKSHENG ANISHNAWBEK – The Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Elders have been trying to arrange a meeting with government officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) on traditional territory for over four years, all in an effort to share dialogue in resolving the issue of aerial spraying.  Despite protests on Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park, TEK had, until recently, no success in setting up such a meeting.  As of Oct. 24, things changed, somewhat.

Following a phone call from Stefan O’Neil (a friend of TEK and a retired Supreme Court Judge) to the Wayne Fiset, North East Director of the MNR  a meeting was set up between TEK and the MNRF on October 24 at Atikameksheng Anishnawbek.  O’Neil, an unofficial advisor to TEK has been working behind the scenes in support of TEK’s efforts for some time now having ongoing dialogues between himself and Elders Willie Pine and Raymond Owl (founding members of TEK).

A total of 28 people attended the meeting including Elders in the Robinson-Huron Treaty alliance as well as seven government officials including Wayne Fiset, and other MNR representatives from Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay.  Also attending, as a result of an invitation by Raymond Owl, was Mollie Kermany, a Senior Advisor from Minister David Zimmer’s office at the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR).

According to Raymond Owl, the meeting was set up to “get everyone together and sit down together in First Nation’s land to talk and dialogue” about the issue of aerial spraying.

Elder Art Petahtegoose, a citizen of Atikameksheng and host Elder spoke first at the meeting telling everyone the meaning behind having a sacred fire burning as those attending sat in a circle around it.  Petahtegoose spoke of how the sacred fire is meant “to remind us of all of our responsibilities.”  As the open dialogue progressed during the day, the sacred fire was tended by one of the youth from Atikameksheng.

Willie Pine, another founding member of TEK told those gathered, “We’re very concerned about Mother Earth, we were put on this earth to look after our Mother, somewhere we failed.”  Telling how our animal life are suffering, Pine went on to say, “the moose population is going down, the birds are suffering…all because of aerial spraying.”  Just recently in a CBC report on October 30, a Chief in the Cree Nation around Chapleau stated emphatically one of the reasons the moose numbers are dwindling is because of aerial spraying.  Closing out his talk, Elder Pine made a plea telling everyone, “The Anishnaabe respects every animal, the trees and the water.  Please see the way we are seeing things.”

Raymond Owl told everyone, “Thank you for being here.”  He spoke of his friend Stefan O’Neil asking for this meeting with the MNR on TEK’s behalf.  Telling those attending, “you’re in Anishnaabe world today,” he reflected on trips he made to the Chapleau area over the years.  He spoke of plentiful game, and a healthy forest in past years, and, how he sat around the fire as a youth listening to and observing elders and learning from them.  “I’m very concerned about our environment now,” he said telling everyone of how things have changed and that “something is missing in the life of the forest.”

TEK friend and advisor Stefan O’Neil related to those gathered of several court cases he has worked on over the years as both a lawyer and a Supreme Court Judge.  With a qualified opinion and over 40 years both behind and in front the bench, O’Neil stressed “the courts are not the place to find reconciliation, when Ray and I talked things over, we agreed it’s the last place we want to go, it’s not the first place.”  Clearly, he established with the MNR that the TEK group is not alone in wanting a stop to aerial spraying, he pointed out a resolution signed on January 27, 2017 by 21 First Nation Chiefs in the Robinson-Huron Treaty who are in full support of the TEK Elders efforts.  O’Neil acknowledged Senior Advisor Mollie Kermany’s attendance, thanking her for coming on the Minister Zimmer’s behalf.  Like Raymond Owl and others, O’Neil is hopeful the meeting on October 24 will be the start of “resolving the issue of aerial spraying” and a commitment to more meetings on the issue.

In a email received on November 1, representative Ms. Flavio Mussio from MIRR stated, “MNRF representatives agreed to continue to work together with TEK to arrange further discussions about aerial spraying in Anishinabek territory.”  Further to this she added,  “[Mollie Kermany] the MIRR representative [who attended the meeting] agreed to explore additional funding opportunities for TEK capacity to support talks going forward, as well as liaise with her counterparts at MNRF and the Union of Ontario Indians.”