Aboriginals don’t have enough say in mining development up north: grand chief


Aboriginals don't have enough say in mining development up north: grand chief



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TORONTO (CP) _ Ontario is allowing mining companies to strip natural resources from northern aboriginal communities without giving First Nations a veto power over projects or a share in the profits, an aboriginal leader said Monday.


The province is granting companies permission to exploit aboriginal land when those companies should be dealing directly with the affected communities, said Stan Beardy, the grand chief representing 49 northern Ontario First Nations.


While the Liberal government is drawing up guidelines on how to consult aboriginals on mining and exploration, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation grand chief said the consultations are meaningless if aboriginals have no power to negotiate development on their traditional land.


First Nations want to be an equal partner, not an afterthought, Beardy said.


“We want to share in the wealth,'' he said in an interview Monday. “Billions of dollars come out of (our) territory on an annual basis . . . none of that wealth comes back to our communities. As a result, we're very, very poor.''


Many of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities have lived under boil-water advisories and are plagued with substandard housing, high unemployment and suicide rates.


The province has drawn up a discussion paper regarding aboriginal consultations but the document rules out giving First Nations a veto on development and doesn't make any mention of profit-sharing.


“Nothing in there tells me things are going to change for my people,'' Beardy said. “It's a gesture but it's not what we're looking for. We keep hoping we will be dealt with fairly and honourably.''


Increasing mining activity in northern Ontario has caused friction between the province and aboriginal communities. The Nishnawbe Aski Nation is a vocal opponent to an open-pit diamond mine on the western coast of James Bay, saying the mine could threaten the boreal forest.


Another of its members, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, is in court-ordered talks with junior exploration company Platinex over drilling in the Big Trout Lake area, some 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.


Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci was not available for comment Monday, but spokesperson Laura Blondeau said the province takes its responsibility to consult with aboriginals very seriously.


The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that governments have a duty to consult aboriginals when decisions affect their treaty rights. The ruling also stated aboriginal groups do not hold a veto over proposed projects, Blondeau said.


“That's a Supreme Court ruling, that's not us,'' Blondeau said. “We are very much looking forward to meeting our constitutional obligations and that involves full consultation.''


The Liberals will take the next six to nine months to consult aboriginals before they draw up any guidelines, she added.


NDP Leader Howard Hampton said aboriginals deserve more than guidelines. Aboriginals are virtually the only inhabitants in Ontario's Far North and it doesn't make sense for either Ottawa or bureaucrats in Toronto to decide the fate of their land, he said.


“People of Toronto would find it very strange if somebody in Big Trout Lake said we're now going to lay down the rules for (the city's) development,'' said Hampton.


“I think it's equally strange that a provincial or federal government would attempt to mandate what the rules are in a large part of Ontario where there are virtually only aboriginal people.


“Aboriginal people . . . deserve the majority decision-making in these issues.''