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Canada officially recognizes northern Ont. First Nation


Beaverhouse First Nation, in northern Ontario near Kirkland Lake, has been fighting to be recognized as a rights-bearing Indigenous community for more than three decades—and those efforts recently came to fruition.

Canada's Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller sent a letter to the community last month, sharing that "Beaverhouse First Nation has demonstrated it is a Section 35 rights-bearing First Nation collectivity."

Chief Wayne Wabie called it a "historic victory" for his nation.

"That's Canada recognizing a new First Nation, which doesn't happen," Wabie said in an interview at the community's original settlement, a remote island along the Misema River only accessible by boat or snow machine.

"To receive that (letter) was a blessing."

Community hid from colonizers

Wabie explained how Beaverhouse First Nation was once a thriving, nomadic hunting and trapping community of around 300 people on a settlement established hundreds of years ago.

After colonizers took over what is now called Canada, provincial and federal governments negotiated treaties with First Nations communities. They guaranteed Indigenous people rights such as land, hunting and yearly compensation.

Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 reaffirmed those rights, along with the right to self-governance, land ownership and other rights tailored to each community.

But Beaverhouse First Nation never signed a treaty. People feared the colonizers on their traditional land, Wabie explained.

"As larger boats travelled up into our water systems, community members would flee," he said.

"Beaverhouse missed out on signing treaty back in 1906 and, as a result, has been struggling and fighting towards that recognition."

'We've got to get justice'

Without treaty rights, the community has struggled to fund health, education, social and administrative services. It also hasn't been able to benefit from the work of local industries on their traditional land.

Many members have worked at forestry and mining companies in the area, but those firms have had no legal obligation to share profits or jobs with the First Nation, since it wasn't recognized by the federal or provincial governments as a distinct community.

To do that, Beaverhouse worked with officials at the Wabun Tribal Council and Nishnawbe Aski Nation to prove that the First Nation was distinct from other surrounding communities.

Elder Tom Wabie, the chief's father, said finally seeing acknowledgment from Canada meant a great deal to him, as someone who grew up on the island.

"Towards unforgiven justice, that's what I call it," said Elder Wabie.

"It's got to be complete. We've got to get justice."

Chief Wabie said this is all the more meaningful, given the light shone on the residential school system and its generational impacts. Many Beaverhouse members attended those schools.

'There will always be Beaverhouse'

Yet, he said this is only one step forward. Next, the community has to undergo negotiations with the federal government to determine what Beaverhouse's future will be. It also needs to hear from the Ontario government, which as of yet, has not officially recognized the community as a nation.

In Miller's letter, he said a discussion table will be formed to work towards formal negotiations and that a federal negotiator will be appointed to "lead discussions on behalf of Canada." Indigenous Services Canada has not yet responded to requests for further comment.

Chief Wabie said it is up to his people to decide what they would like Beaverhouse's future to be.

He just hopes the community will be thrive once again and be self-sustaining.

"So we aren't relying on a system that has neglected us for 116 years," Wabie said, saying he is confident that the country can no longer deny the legitimacy of his community.

"I now know that 100 years from now, there will always be, in the eyes of Canada, Beaverhouse First Nation." Top Stories

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