SAN FRANCISCO – The province of Ontario announced last week an unprecedented commitment to protect 56 million acres of northern boreal forest, an area equal in size to the state of Minnesota. Today, Rainforest Action Network and a host of other labor, environmental, human rights, faith-based and social justice groups issued a joint letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty welcoming the proposal while urging the province to make good on its commitment to Indigenous communities as implementation of the plan moves forward.
The planned protected area falls entirely within the traditional territories of 36 First Nations communities and is as large as the entire U.S. roadless areas network. The development is globally significant in that the boreal forest is also the world’s largest carbon storehouse, storing an estimated 186 billion tons of carbon, equal to nearly three decades of global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The boreal region is also the world’s largest reservoir of clean fresh water.
Ontario’s northern boreal forest plan includes a pledge to uphold and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples as part of a comprehensive planning process to promote conservation and sustainable economies in the region. According to the province, “planning at the community level will be a true partnership” and “local planning will only be done in agreement with First Nations.” The government also stated that “new forestry and the opening of new mines in the Far North would require community land use plans supported by local Aboriginal communities.”
While welcoming such commitments, today’s letter to Premier McGuinty urged the Ontario government “to ensure that these principles are applied consistently in the development of the Northern Boreal Forest plan and throughout the province.” The letter also pushed the province to “involve Indigenous peoples in land use planning and to obtain their consent in local planningwherever the rights of Indigenous peoples may be affected.”
In addition, the letter calls on the province to honor Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant's pledge that "there will be no situation where [minerals] exploration will take place on traditional territories or sacred burial grounds without the consent of First Nations.”
The full letter can be read at www.freegrassy.org/borealletter.
Signatories to the letter include: Amnesty International Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams; CUPE National; CUPE Ontario; CUPW; KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives; Mining Watch Canada; Rainforest Action Network; Sierra Youth Coalition; Toronto York Region Labour Council; and Sam Gindin, Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University.
Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org