Charges dropped in case against Grassy Narrows activist trapper

For Immediate Release, Oct. 29, 2009

Charges dropped in case against Grassy Narrows activist trapper

Red Lake, ON:  The Crown prosecutor in Red Lake Ontario has dropped all charges against Gwa wich Tapaywaykejick (Roberta Keesick), an Indigenous trapper, hunter, blockader and grandmother from Asubpeeschoseewagong  (Grassy Narrows First Nation).  Keesick was scheduled to appear in a Red Lake courtroom last week on trial for building two log cabins on her family trapline without provincial permits under the Public Lands Act.  Similar charges against Keesick’s common law partner, Don Billard, who was assisting Keesick on her authorization, were also dropped.

“I believe that any Anishinabe can build a log cabin in the forest unhindered by the government,” said Keesick.  “I hope that more Anishnabek will go back into the forest and utilize the land as our ancestors have, and teach our children and grandchildren how to survive in there.”

A pre-trial Notice of Constitutional Question filed on behalf of Keesick and Billard argued that the “Government of Ontario has no right to regulate or interfere with the…  right to hunt or fish in territory governed by Treaty #3 or to use the territory traditionally
cared for and used by the Anishnabe people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation for hunting and fishing, among other uses.”  The building of cabins is necessary to facilitate the exercise of those Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

Keesick has been one of the key forces in sustaining the Grassy Narrows blockade at Slant Lake (now in its eighth year) and in the grassroots efforts of her community to assert control over their traditional territory, protect the earth, and exercise their right to self-determination.

The building of cabins is part of a process of reclamation and revival where Indigenous people are using the land on their territory as their ancestors have for generations. It is a critically important piece of the work that is being undertaken by the people of Grassy Narrows to empower themselves and to sustain their families, revive their culture and heal their community.

“If you bring the beaver in to a court room and ask him to stop cutting trees to build his house, he would not know what you’re talking about because he is not doing anything wrong- just doing what a beaver has always done.  This accurately describes what I feel as a
true sovereign.  My people have always used this land, but now we are criminalized and treated like a nuisance when we're trying to be out on the land,” explained Keesick.

Keesick’s case was being watched by trappers in her community and across the country.

Roberta Keesick:  807-925-2201,
Judy Da Silva: 807-925-2201
Don Billard: 807-749-2544.