Anglican leaders to support Indigenous land rights at rally

On Aug. 6 National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Archbishop Terry Finlay, the Primate’s special envoy on residential schools, will attend a rally to support the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in their challenge of Ontario’s Bill 191: the Far North Act. The act will dictate the land use planning process in NAN territory.

In a press release, NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy called for the Ontario legislature to withdraw the bill, introduced June 2, and enter into negotiations with NAN.

“This legislation will set aside 225,000 square kilometres as a protected area within our homelands without our consultation, accommodation or consent,” said Mr. Beardy. “[It] will lock down the land to prevent First Nations, the poorest people in Canada, from achieving economic independence by preventing the development needed to build our communities and strengthen the Ontario economy.”

The Government of Ontario set July 23, 2009 as a deadline for expressions of interest to appear before the standing committee on Bill 191. Mr. Beardy noted in the press release that this timeline did not give remote NAN First Nations sufficient time to respond.

NAN is a political territorial organization that represents 49 First Nation communities and approximately 45,000 First Nation members. It covers two-thirds of Ontario’s land mass, encompassing James Bay Treaty 9 territory and Ontario’s portion of Treaty 5.

The Aug. 6 rally is scheduled to take place at the Ontario legislature, beginning with a sunrise ceremony, songs and prayers. Leaders from other Indigenous communities and environmental, industry, and church partners are expected to attend. A press conference will be held at 11:00.

“Although the church has too often denied it in its actions, the rights of First Nations—to self-determination, to simply be—is a fundamental part of our understanding of the morality of our faith and a critical proof of our gospel,” said Bishop MacDonald.

“In the issue of Bill 191, these things are once again challenged by the policies of Western governments,” he said. “Since treaty times, the church has promised to walk with First Nations in their pursuit for justice and the Aboriginal rights particularly embodied in the treaties. In our witness over Bill 191, we hope to walk with the First Nations of Nishnawbe Aski Nation”

In January 2008, Mr. Beardy visited Church House to state his support for a proposed new Aboriginal-led area mission. He also addressed Church House staff and urged them to advocate for Aboriginal rights, and help Aboriginals take leadership within the church.

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