Aboriginals say Ontario stalling efforts to resolve legal battle over mining

Aboriginals say Ontario stalling efforts to resolve legal battle over mining



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


TORONTO (CP) _ Ontario's refusal to sign off on an agreement that would kick-start negotiations between aboriginals and a mining company is hampering any resolution of the contentious dispute, a native spokesman says.


The Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation claims the provincial government is refusing to sign a basic consultation agreement would allow them to begin court-ordered talks with Toronto-based Platinex Inc.


The junior exploration company wants to drill in the Big Trout Lake area, some 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. While the proposed site is not on reserve land, it is within the aboriginal band's traditional territory.


Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci's signature would prove the government is sincere about wanting to resolve whether Platinex can drill on the remote, fly-in-only property, said band spokesman John Cutfeet.


“It is absolutely essential to demonstrate good faith and that they are actually trying to meet the standards by the decision of the judge,'' he said.


While some preliminary talks have been held, the aboriginal band says meaningful negotiation can't begin until the agreement is signed.


Bartolucci maintains that the document is still being written and that's why he won't sign.


“I am ensuring that our ministry is involving themselves in a very proactive way with ensuring that the protocol is in place,'' said Bartolucci.


He added that the ministry has offered up a “considerable amount of money to help with those consultations.''


The case could have wider implications for exploration in the province's mineral-rich north because the band is also challenging the Ontario Mining Act on constitutional grounds.


The band wants the act to mandate consultation with aboriginal people even before explorers go in search of gold, diamond and nickel deposits so that the mostly impoverished communities can reap some economic benefit from mining.


The dispute escalated earlier this year when protesters blocked an access road and landing strip, arguing the government had no right to grant Platinex a mining permit for their land.


Platinex filed a $10-billion suit and asked for a court order to remove the protesters. The band filed a countersuit and successfully obtained an temporary injunction prohibiting exploration on the land.


Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith gave the band, company and province five months to talk.


They're all due back in court on Jan. 5.


Given the looming deadline, the government's explanation that the agreement isn't ready amounts to nothing more than a stalling tactic, said Cutfeet.


He said other provincial governments have had no qualms about signing similar documents as part of the normal protocol before beginning talks.


He pointed to the Blueberry River First Nations in British Columbia who inked a consultation agreement regarding the oil and gas sector last year.


NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the government needs to start working with First Nations people or all sides will lose out on potentially billions of dollars worth of mineral deposits on native property.


“The far north probably has some of the best mineral resources and mineral reserves in the world,'' said Hampton, who represents the northwestern Ontario riding of Kenora-Rainy River.


“But the First Nations correctly have said they are not prepared to allow any kind of mining development activity to happen unless and until there are real honest and actual consultation with the Ontario government.''