Ontario faces fresh native-rights storm


Ontario faces fresh native-rights storm; Mining company and protesters set to square off over property claim



With a report from Kate Harries

The Globe and Mail

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Just when the Ontario government appears to be bringing the standoff with native protesters at Caledonia under control, another land-use issue involving natives is coming to the fore.


As Caledonia started with developers asking for an injunction to get protesters off their property, this morning in Thunder Bay, Platinex Inc., a Toronto-based mining exploration company, is seeking a court order to keep protesters away from a mining claim it wants to drill on.


If granted, the application would prevent residents of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (commonly called KI) reserve at Big Trout Lake from interfering with drilling on a platinum deposit that the company has staked near the reserve, 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.


The natives have applied for a counter-injunction that would stop Platinex from continuing its exploration of the platinum deposit, which the company says is potentially the largest in North America.


(There are other lawsuits in the background: Platinex is suing the natives for $10-billion, the expected value of the ore that they hope to find; the natives are countersuing Platinex for $10-million, and told the province they intend to challenge the constitutionality of the Ontario Mining Act; and the reserve has made a land claim that includes the disputed area.)


We are not prepared to entertain any mining in our territory at this time,” KI resident Mark Anderson told a Queen's Park news conference through an interpreter.


Mr. Anderson, who spoke in Oji-Cree, is one of four natives who walked for six weeks to cover the 2,100 kilometres from Pickle Lake, 360 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, to Toronto to protest against the exploration by Platinex.


He said that as they arrived at Queen's Park his thoughts were “about the older youths and children who do not want to lose the right to exercise our hunting rights and to ensure that we protect our land as it provides for us through our hunting.”


But there is much more potentially at stake in the tussle over Platinex.


The case will be instrumental in determining how economic development proceeds in an area of the province larger than France.


Higher prices for metals have sparked an interest in mineral exploration across the North, an area where control of the land is shared between the province and the native people under the terms of treaties that were signed 100 years ago or more.


Stan Beardy, the grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents the natives living in the two-thirds of Ontario's land mass covered by Treaty 9, told the news conference that the natives and the provincial government have to find a way to go forward.


He said that a Supreme Court ruling last November found that the natives have to be consulted on any development in the treaty area and to him that means that no mining development can take place without the consent of the native peoples.


But provincial sources said that, while the ruling says the natives must be consulted, it does not give them a veto on development.


Platinex is caught in the middle of a larger fight, and is now facing “a huge challenge that's something that's well beyond the purview of this small exploratory company to deal with,” said the company's lawyer, Neal Smitheman.