The chief of the northwestern Ontario community Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (K.I.) is pleased to win another battle in the world of mining. It’s the second fight for the community west of Thunder Bay which wishes to keep mining and exploration companies out of its traditional territories in their bid to protect the environment and sacred sites.
The government of Ontario announced March 29 that it reached an agreement with Toronto-based mineral exploration company God’s Lake Resources Inc. (GLR) to surrender its mining lease near K.I. That agreement cost the province $3.5 million in exchange for God’s Lake to surrender its lease and claims within a 23,000 hectare area.
That agreement settled a dispute between the company and K.I., and the lands are now subject to the province’s recent withdrawal from staking and mineral exploration in the area.
The dispute has been ongoing since early last fall when K.I. hunters came across some prospect tents, survey tape and other evidence of mineral exploration in an area the community had deemed off limits to protect its sacred sites.
Last October, K.I. issued an eviction notice to the exploration company, which was ignored. Talks broke down with the province nearly a month later. Then, in early March, K.I. led a protest in Toronto during the Prospectors and Developers Associations International Convention. Shortly after that, the province removed 23,000 square kilometres of K.I. traditional lands from future mining claims. But, that move didn’t affect GLR’s mining claims in the area. So, two-and-a-half weeks later, the province bought out GLR’s interest in the lands, to the relief of the chief.
K.I. Chief Donny Morris says, “In a way, it means we won our dispute with God’s Lake Resources. But on the other hand, I don’t think we should keep coming back like we did with Platinex.”
K.I. leaders made headlines in 2008 when six of its leaders, including Morris, were jailed for contempt of court after leaders protested Platinex’s mining activities on their lands. That decision was later overturned by a higher court.
Ramsey Hart, Mining Watch’s Canada Program Coordinator, points out this is the second time the province bought out the interest of a mining company.
“They did a very similar thing with Platinex back in 2008. And that was a $5 million price tag.”
Hart thinks the Ontario buy-out sends the wrong message.
“In combination it sends a message to companies that would choose to mine for compensation that they may have a window until the new mining act is fully enforced to push the envelope and try and mine the province for compensation money as opposed to mining minerals.”
Hart’s not the only one who thinks it’s a bad idea. For different reasons, the purchase leaves a bad taste in the mouth of K.I. community member John Cutfeet, who used to also act as spokesperson for his community.
“I think it’s despicable that they’re leveraging K.I. lands to make a profit and having to pay off companies,” he said.
Cutfeet said Aboriginal rights must be recognized, plus, he too remembers when the K.I. six were jailed and what came after.
“The rights of K.I. have to be reconciled with other competing interests because that is one of the decisions that was made in May 2008 when the K.I. six were released.
“Aboriginal interests had to be reconciled with other interests. And that’s one of the things that K.I. has been asking for, to sit down and look at what it is you’re trying to do in our area,” he said.
And since the provincial purchase last month, Morris has been calling for a meeting with Rick Bartolucci, the minister of Northern Development and Mines. “It’s really time to sit down as government-to-government and discuss this issue so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Morris.
Adrian Kupesic, spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines, says the province has been inviting the community to sit down and talk. “Over the past three years, staff from our ministry have made several offers to visit the K.I. land to better understand the community’s assertion regarding burial grounds in the area and explore ways in which we can protect them. To date, the ministry’s requests have gone unanswered.”
Kupesic then referred the community to another ministry.
“At this point, we would like to encourage Chief Morris and the K.I. Nation to work closely with the Ministry of Natural Resources to complete their land use planning exercise. Through that exercise, they will be able to identify which lands are sacred and off-limits to any future exploration or development.” The land-use planning component Kupesic refers to falls within the Far North Act, which does not provide funding for the work.
However, Chief Morris wants more than that.
“We’ve been pushing for a joint panel to discuss outstanding issues, which are our territory, our Water Declaration, and our Consultation Protocol and other issues being worked on at the community level,” Morris said. Last year, the community ratified its own Water Declaration and Consultation protocol to look after their lands.
“We need to sit down with government and tell them we’re moving forward in the areas of protecting our resources for future development and if you want to be a part of it, you have to come to the table,” Morris said.
K.I. jurisdiction over the land is something Cutfeet supports, because he doesn’t believe the province has ownership over his community’s traditional lands.
“I think Ontario has to begin to realize that they cannot continue to allow companies to raise moneys off of K.I. lands without talking with K.I.”
Cutfeet adds, “The province has had to pay out $8.5 million so far, for not following the rule of law, as they tend to claim that they’re following the rule of law. But the rule of law states that K.I.’s interests have to be accommodated and reconciled with other competing interests.”