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

Canadian Press

Kitchener-Waterloo Record





Copyright (c) 2006 Kitchener-Waterloo Record.




The development of a 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 hopes to mine for platinum in an area populated by 1,200 members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, 600 km north of Thunder Bay.


The company says 90 per cent of the world's platinum comes from South Africa, and a Canadian mine would be an extraordinary opportunity for all those involved. But the community has made it clear they are against mining on their traditional territory. A Supreme Court ruling dictates they should have been consulted before Platinex was cleared 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 15 kilometres from their reserve. They asked the company to leave the area but Platinex said it had received a permit to do exploratory work and refused. But it 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 is caught in the middle of a fight between the First Nation and the government over an ongoing land claim.


Four members of the First Nation are walking to Ontario's legislature to raise awareness about their fight. They began May 9 and plan to walk 50 to 70 kilometres a day, hoping to arrive for National Aboriginal Day on June 21.