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MAY 27, 2009                                                                          UPDATED: MAY 28


Court orders new election at First Nation

Today the Federal Court ordered the Temagami First Nation to hold new elections for chiefs and councillors as soon as possible.

In the interim, the Potts council — one of two elected since June 12, 2008 and led by Chief Gary Potts — will remain in office as "caretaker," but may not make major decisions.

The judge left the parties to pay their own expenses. However, he recommended that the band should cover costs of Chief Roxane Ayotte's council, which have been coming out of the pockets of her councillors and others named as respondents. The community at large has been fundraising for months.

The Potts council had control of the band's discretionary funds and paid costs and expenses for the members of Chief and Council elected on June 12. It was the Potts council that named Ayotte and others as respondents, compelling them to go to court in their own defence.

During two mediation talks, Potts tried to lever this burden with an offer to pay their expenses, out of band funds, if they permitted Potts to stay in office.

The reserve has been in political turmoil since that close election. Then ten formal appeals were made and scrutinized by the electoral officer, Virginia Paul. She rejected all. 

The judge ruled that the election was "flawed from the beginning." He also found flaws in the responses of both councils to the subsequent crisis.

Potts could not be reached for comment.

Ayotte sees the decision as a vindication. During mediation and before the court, her council proposed a new election. "This is the best news."

BACKGROUND:  Court's interim decision (PDF)

RELATED STORIES: Three Elections, Two Chiefs, One Quagmire

                              First Nation court date set  

                              First Nation chief and council impeached

                              Indian Affairs' contradicts policy

                              TFN council stripped of authority

                              First Nation votes to oust Chief Potts

                              Potts council beleaguered

                              Court hearing on Potts' impeachment

                              Mediation falls flat

                              Respect their dignity

                                 Last chance at mediation

                                 First nation mediation commiseration

Announcement for book signing of Trails and Tribulations by Hap Wilson


MAY 23, 2009

First Nation mediation commiseration

One last stab at mediation between the two chiefs and councils of the Temagami First Nation never got off the ground, leaving the 11-month-long leadership impasse in the hands of the courts.

Justice Tony Mandamin attempted to mediate between the two elected councils over the last two days in an open meeting on Bear Island.

The Federal Court withheld a ruling to give the community this chance at its own solution.

A disappointed Teme-Augama Anishnabai Chief John McKenzie said, "The envelope, please." 

MAY 21, 2009

Land claim negotiations languish

Has anyone noticed that the land-claim negotiations drifted over the horizon and didn’t come back?

They were suspended in August by the newly elected Chief and Council, led by Chief Gary Potts, of the Temagami First Nation.


MAY 16, 2009

Last chance at mediation before court rules

A federal judge volunteered one last stab at mediation before the court rules on the Temagami First Nation's 11-month-long election stalemate.

"This will be the last ditch effort at compromise to avoid having the Federal Court attempt to impose their ruling on our community," said John Turner, a respondent in the judicial review.

Justice Leonard Mandamin offered to mediate the dispute between the Ayotte and Potts councils. There will be no lawyers present at the sessions on Bear Island, May 21 and 22. They will be open to the public.

Mandamin, a member of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, sits on the Federal Court of Canada. His offer to mediate went through Justice Hughes, the presiding judge, so it behooved both councils to accept the offer.

A previous effort at mediation in April during a closed session with lawyers went nowhere.

RELATED STORIES: Three Elections, Two Chiefs, One Quagmire

                              First Nation court date set  

                              First Nation chief and council impeached

                              Indian Affairs' contradicts policy

                              TFN council stripped of authority

                              First Nation votes to oust Chief Potts

                              Potts council beleaguered

                              Court hearing on Potts' impeachment

                              Mediation falls flat

                              Respect their dignity  

MAY 14, 2009

Chiniguchi map project complete

Ottertooth's project to fully map the Chiniguchi canoe area of southwestern Temagami is done. This is the first full map set of current-use routes (as opposed to historical routes) ever produced. The mapped portages and campsites are used today and open.

The final posting is the Northern Tracks map of Frederick, Dougherty, Stouffer and Parsons lakes, Kettle Falls and Sturgeon River.

Most of the routes on this map are well known. The Parsons route, a shortcut is not well known, and the Mudding Lake route to Kettle Falls has been lost for decades.

MAPS:   Chiniguchi main page

               Northern Tracks



MAY 11, 2009


Respect their dignity

By Brian Back

Thirty Temagami First Nation members sat in the walnut- and mahogany-walled courtroom of the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa on April 27, the future of the ancient nation’s modern government at stake over a contentious election. (A second hearing will be held on Wednesday before the judge issues a decision.)

The judge, in an unusual move, spoke directly to the spectators. He expressed empathy for the seriousness of the situation, the distance people had travelled, and the anxiety it was creating on the reserve. Three times during the seven-hour hearing, he stopped the proceedings to urge everyone in the room to resolve this on their own.  “It is always better than anything lawyers can impose.”

Each side’s lawyer took potshots at the other. They should have taken advantage of the judge’s aboriginal sensitivity and the rising concern within the courts over the breakdown of First Nation governance across Canada. Here’s what I would have told the judge in closing.

Mr. Justice Hughes,

It is a hundred years since the federal Indian Act was imposed upon the Teme-Augama Anishnabai. It stripped away self-government and turned its members into wards of the Dominion.

Yet they had no treaty, rebuffed when they sought one. No treaty, no reserve. They were stuck in a government-created no-man’s land and considered squatters on the land where their ancestors lived and died.

Ontario went gunning for their remaining rights, upon which their daily survival depended. It tried to evict them and torched many homes. It grabbed their rights to trap, hunt and fish. It took their right to cut timber for shelter and heat. They were nobodies, invisible.  

They remained largely so for over 60 years. In 1971 they received a reserve. In 1978, they became a custom band, opting out of many of the governing rules of the Indian Act, particularly elections. Ironically they pieced together disparate sections of the very act they despised. Then they adopted it as their constitution, broken bones and all. 

Despite widespread poverty, the late 1970s were heady days in the aftermath of their partial liberation from the “colonial government” and the launch of their land claim. The father of the rebirth was then-chief Gary Potts.   

In 1994, the band re-named itself the Temagami First Nation, and a new generation with post-secondary education took over leadership. It had a deeper understanding of the mechanics and nuances of democracy and federal government programs. With the energy of youth and the empowerment of the Potts era, this new period has been transformative.

Today there is a First Nation middle class and most families have raised themselves out of poverty. There is a school, elders centre, health-care facility and water works. About half the adult residents of Bear Island are employed by the band. Everyone has family working for it and it has become their family. They have seen the good it can do and has done for them. It is the only government they trust.

The progress remains fragile. Potts was elected on June 12 after a 13-year absence from politics. It became obvious that the election was broken when appeals came in and they were not resolved in a manner seen as fair and just. The election, in the minds of a majority, needed fixing. The broken-bones constitution could not do it.  

One of the great flaws of troubled First Nation governments across the country is the lack of transparency and accountability. We should praise the Temagami people for not simply paying lip service to that ideal.

You asked them to resolve the problem, but they have tried four times: an election appeal, two election re-runs, and an impeachment. Through peaceful efforts they have tried to kick some life into the broken bones. That doesn’t sound like a failed government. It reveals extraordinary determination and level-headedness, and that should be the starting point for your ruling, not the failures or the impasses.

The Deep Water People’s culture is shaped around the tribal memory and pride of a once-independent nation standing tall. That loss of independence drained its dignity, the lifeblood, and that cannot be healed by another edict from Ottawa. They have been ordered around for a century. That’s not nation building. That's nation killing.

The task before you is not to decide who should rule, but how. How can you guide them to fix this situation on their own within a system of their own?

Here lies a paradox. It is easier to give them the answer than to help them find it. It is easier to hurt a nation in the giving than in the withholding.

They must restore their own dignity to be dignified. Be the guiding hand, not the delivering hand.

RELATED STORIES: Three Elections, Two Chiefs, One Quagmire

                              First Nation court date set  

                              First Nation chief and council impeached

                              Indian Affairs' contradicts policy

                              TFN council stripped of authority

                              First Nation votes to oust Chief Potts

                              Potts council beleaguered

                              Court hearing on Potts' impeachment

                              Mediation falls flat


MAY 6, 2009


It's done. Another season is here.

Harold Keevil watched the North Arm of Lake Temagami break up at 3:30. He boated up yesterday to his island in Sharp Rock Inlet, navigating along small channels among large floes, breaking ice twice.

Today when he left the ice had shifted and jammed the narrows at Seal Rock Point. "We pulled around the back side of the point," he emailed, "and spent an hour watching the ice move out for good."

Keevil is one of the first seasonal residents to move onto the lake, and one of the last to leave.

Ottertooth's test is the same every year: the section of Lake Temagami between Rabbitnose Island and Sealrock Point, invariably the last to go, must be clear of large floes. From this accessible location we declare break-up for all of the Temagami region.

Lakes in the northern-most portion of Temagami still have some ice, but that will be gone in days.

This is the first time since 2005 that break-up is in May.

PHOTOS:   View of ice going out: 30-minute interval

BACKGROUND:   Historic break-up dates

Photo: Twin Falls, Sturgeon River

Twin Falls (east branch), Sturgeon River

MAY 6, 2009

Loggers want another Sturgeon Park crossing

Loggers want another bridge over the Sturgeon River. Conservationists want none of it. Ontario Parks wants to look at the big picture.

“It’s all about cost," says Bruno Gervais operator of Gervais Forest Products. "I’m already at the Sturgeon River with my roads now. All I got to do is cross."

Two crossings are approved in the park management plan (Hamlow Lake Road and Lower Goose Falls), completed in 2007.

"The ink is barely dry on the Temagami Area Park Management Plan," says Bob Olajos of Friends of Temagami. "No new roads are permitted in the Sturgeon River Provincial Park. Ontario Parks needs to follow its own plan."

Gervais is a shareholder of the timber licensee, Vermilion Forest Management. On Gervais' behalf Vermilion is proposing four routes to access the jack pine and spruce in the Solace Wildland, a virgin triangle of roadless forest between the Solace and Sturgeon parks and the upper Yorston River.

Industry first

The river crossing, just south of Twin Falls, is the preferred choice of several proposals by Vermilion. The alternatives are extensions of an old road network from the southeast, which would not require a new bridge.

“Those roads are 100 years old," says Gervais. "They’re not really good roads. We can’t be going into mountain goat country. It’s just crazy the amount of money we’d need then."

The proposal is for a removable bridge, in part because the land-use plan prohibits motorized access in the Solace Wildland, and for a second access barrier west of the Sturgeon at the Boland River to prevent access to the park boundary.

Over the last 15 years, Gervais built a road system west of the river that is far more efficient than the older road network it replaced: better grades, wider roadbed, straighter visibility, longer sightlines. And it is far more efficient than the old road network he would have to use on the east side.

He would rather not cross the river at all, but that is where the timber is and that is where the law mandates he must cut, (though exceptions do happen). The crossing was first proposed in 1995, he says, but Ontario Parks, a branch of Ministry of Natural Resources, always rejected the idea. Instead, he logged alternative stands.

"We used to have a lot more areas to cut because they let us cut that 60- to 70-year-old jack pine, but now we’re forced to cut that 90-year-old jack pine. We got lots of areas we'd rather go to, but the planning process doesn’t allow us because [the trees are] too young. You have to chase down the older stuff now."

The plan, in theory, is all about sustaining the resources for the mills. The first rule of sustainable cutting: create 90 slices of land, each with the same age trees. The second rule: cut one slice a year. Third: cut the oldest first. Fourth: come back to the slice in 90 years.

Since the Solace will be logged in slices, though not necessarily uniformly or annually, it is hard to imagine this crossing to be anything but permanent.

But the road is only the visible symptom of far greater changes to be wrought to this wild area.

Opportunity or betrayal?

Gervais will be clear-cutting on both sides of the Sturgeon between Twin and Kettle falls. This is the remotest and one of the most beautiful stretches of the river. When finished a threadlike ribbon of trees on either bank will be visible from an aircraft — forest green in a sea of slash-brown clear-cuts.

Some conservationists and canoeists feel that Parks consideration of the proposal so soon after the completion of the plan, to which they contributed in good faith, is a betrayal.

“[Vermilion] came to us," says Park planner Roel Teunissen. "We’ve got something they want. This puts us into a bargaining position where there’s something to be gained for the greater good of the Temagami area."

“We would be remiss to not at least consider it. We could just say, 'No, we’re not interested,' and live with whatever happens in terms of how that road network gets developed, and how it gets used and abused by others."

Right now, Vermilion is working to get roads approved in the Sudbury Forest Management Plan, now in preparation, and available for public comment (see Parks has the final say, and it wants to see the public's reaction.

If there is bridge opposition, Teunissen says, it will not move forward with its own public process of amending the park plan to allow the bridge.

There may also be a third public process that has not been mentioned. The land-use plan states that roads in this area are not permitted "within 350 metres of park boundaries." Will the 1997 Temagami Land Use Plan, the ceasefire agreement in the land-use wars, stop industry?

Given that industry wants its plan in place by next year, it is surprising it waited this long to propose it.

There is a lot up in the air.

However, without public opposition, the future, as it always is when industry wants something, is clear. It's water under the bridge.

  MAPS Proposed road crossing (PDF, 1.5 MB)

               Proposed cutting areas (PDF, 28 MB)

               Sudbury Forest logging unit

  RELATED STORY: Clearcuts closing on the Sturgeon   

MAY 3, 2009

Northern Temagami region ice heavy

"All decent-sized lakes north of Yorston have at least some ice cover," helicopter pilot Andy Stevens wrote at four yesterday on the forum. "Makobe still looks very solid with lots of snow still on the ground. Diamond is probably 60 per cent ice-covered. Flew over [Cabin Falls] as well, a lot of water going over the falls, the cabin is high and dry but just."

Early this morning he added, "Was over Smoothwater and Solace yesterday afternoon, both are very solid, looked like you could walk across the ice. Beauty lake road still has snow banks. The higher ground north of Lake Wanapitei gets significantly more snow, I would estimate the ground in the hills near Solace is still 80 per cent snow covered."

Clouds yesterday obstructed a satellite view. Timing will determine whether a clear view is available late today.


Photo: ice break-up, Lake Temagami, 2009
Photo: ice break-up, Lake Temagami, 2009

MAY 2, 2009

Ogama Island notes by Gerry Gooderham

LAKE TEMAGAMI – The ice moved again yesterday under south winds. Lots of damage to docks.

Today, the channel opened to the landing and I boated Sue in. Still some big ice out there and south winds again. Snowing and bloody cold. 


Photo: ice break-up, Lake Temagami, 2009

                         May 1 – Ogama Island


MAY 1, 2009

Ice widespread

"There's ice all over the lake, but there's quite a few open holes," says George Mathias who operates an airboat from Bear Island.

For two days there has been open water between the landing and the back, or east side, of Bear Island.

"I moved my boat from the front to the island to the back," says Gerry Gooderham on Ogama Island, "and ran into tough six inches of ice, so still pretty thick. It is slightly foggy and overcast today with the same winds from the south."

Satellite photos for yesterday and today are obstructed by clouds.

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