Development of platinum mine near northern Ontario reserve leads to $10B suit

 

BY MIKE OLIVEIRA

CP

The Canadian Press

CPR

English

(c) 2006 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

 

TORONTO (CP) _ The development of a potentially rare and lucrative platinum mine near a reserve in northern Ontario has prompted a First Nation to sue the provincial government, while it faces a $10 billion lawsuit from a Canadian exploration company.

 

The cases centre around Platinex Inc.'s (TSXV:PTX) hopes to mine for platinum in an area populated by about 1,200 members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, located about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

 

The company says about 90 per cent of the world's platinum comes from mines in South Africa, and a Canadian mine would be an extraordinary opportunity for all those involved, including the aboriginal community.

 

But the community has made it clear they are against mining on their traditional territory and a landmark Supreme Court ruling dictates they should have been consulted before Platinex was cleared by the province to go forward, said deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is providing assistance in the legal fight.

 

“For any company to work in (aboriginal) territory, it's just common courtesy to call the chief and council and say, `We're interested in doing this type of work in your community, can we come and sit down and talk about it,''' Fiddler said.

 

He said the community was shocked to find the company setting up to work and drill in a lake about 15 kilometres from their reserve, an area they consider to be part of their traditional territory.

 

They asked the company to leave the area but Platinex said it had received a permit from the province to do exploratory work and refused. But Platinex pulled out after further confrontations and sought legal assistance.

 

“The company turned around and sued the community for $10 billion. We thought it was maybe a typo, we thought it was $10 million but it was really $10 billion,'' Fiddler said. “So that was a shock to the community.''

 

The company has filed the injunction to continue its work because it was legally cleared to do so, on land which _ according to some legal interpretation _ may be Crown property, said Platinex lawyer Neil Smitheman.

 

He said the monetary value attached to the case may give a wrong impression of what Platinex is after, since it refers to the maximum value the company believes the mine could be worth, and not a sum being sought from the First Nation.

 

He said Platinex just wants to continue its work and is caught in the middle of a fight between the First Nation and the government over an ongoing land claim.

 

Platinex is a small company that can't afford to sit back and wait for the years it might take for the dispute to be settled, Smitheman said.

 

“If we don't get on the property to do exploratory work, it'll cause irreparable harm to the company financially,'' he said.

 

“A geologist went out and staked it and thinks there may be a significant platinum deposit there. So this could be something really quite exciting as far as the mining community is concerned _ and dealt with properly_ I think as far as the First Nation community is concerned as well.''

 

Smitheman said the development could bring jobs and additional revenue to the community but understands not everyone likes the idea.

 

“I think that some members of the First Nation community would welcome (the development), others are concerned about losing their traditional way of life, however, in fairness.''

 

As the company and community wait for the cases to go to court, four members of the First Nation are walking to Ontario's legislature to raise awareness about their fight.

 

They began in Pickle Lake, Ont., on May 9 and plan to walk 50 to 70 kilometres a day, hoping to span about 1,500 kilometres and arrive in Toronto for National Aboriginal Day on June 21.