Natives halt talks over mineral rights

 

Natives halt talks over mineral rights

 

KAREN HOWLETT

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

TORONTO — Leaders of native communities in Northern Ontario have suspended talks with the provincial government on exploring for mineral riches on their traditional lands, potentially derailing future mining and other natural resources projects.

 

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the umbrella group representing 49 native communities, announced the move after six members from one of its reserves were jailed this week for opposing mining on their land.

 

It was a real insult to all first nations,” Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of NAN, said in an interview yesterday.

 

The six-month jail sentences cap a long-standing fight between leaders from the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, also known as KI, and Platinex Inc., which holds claims to explore for minerals on their traditional lands. KI is home to 1,200 people who hunt, fish and trap on their land. Platinex believes it is sitting on one of the largest platinum deposits in North America.

 

But the dispute goes well beyond a remote fly-in community 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and a junior mining company. It highlights how the provincial government is struggling to adapt to a new era requiring consultation with aboriginals before companies can start drilling on their land. Recent court judgments spell out the government's duty to negotiate land-use planning and revenue-sharing agreements with native communities before approving mineral exploration on their lands. Without such accords, projects on aboriginal land north of the 51st parallel, including a proposed transmission link that would import electricity from Manitoba to power-hungry Ontario, cannot go ahead.

 

It's going to be very difficult for any company to try to come into our territory and think that they will get approval from any of our communities,” Mr. Fiddler said.

 

This creates more uncertainty for first nations,” New Democratic Party Leader Howard Hampton said in Question Period yesterday. “It creates more uncertainty for resource companies.”

 

The KI situation has also prompted human-rights groups and environmentalists to push for an overhaul of Ontario's mining laws. The province's 135-year-old Mining Act gives prospectors the right to enter Crown land to stake claims without first having to purchase the land.

 

In an open letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, a group including Amnesty International said the “antiquated” act is taking precedence over human rights and ecological concerns.

 

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said the government has “bent over backward” to try to resolve the dispute with KI. He said he spoke yesterday to both the acting chief of KI and to Stan Beardy, grand chief of NAN. “I'm looking for ways to address KI's concerns,” he said.

 

Mr. Beardy said in an interview that he has a good working relationship with Mr. Bryant.

 

I have a lot of respect for him,” he said. “But the issues we are dealing with are very complex and there's a lot of history on both sides.”