Ontario First Nations demand firm right to say ‘no’ to mining developments


Ontario First Nations demand firm right to say 'no' to mining developments; Government's pledge draws skepticism


Kerry Gillespie

Copyright (c) 2008 The Toronto Star


On the day in May that native leader Bob Lovelace was released from jail after spending 100 days there for blocking mining exploration, he was asked if he'd do it again.


He replied: "If you don't have the right to say, 'No,' you have no right at all."


This week, the province has said it's giving First Nations that right through land protection for the Far North and changes to the outdated mining act.


"We think exploration and mine development should only happen when there's been early consultation and accommodation with local aboriginal communities," Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday when he announced half the province's vast Northern Boreal region would be protected from development.


If native communities "permit" mining on the lands left open to development, they'll "get a piece of the action" under resource revenue sharing agreements that will be part of the reformed mining act, McGuinty said.


But the lawyer for Lovelace, an Ardoch Algonquin, and six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), who were also jailed for opposing mining, isn't so sure the political language will turn into firm commitments when the legislation is introduced in the fall.


"Consultation and accommodation can take many forms," lawyer Chris Reid said in an interview. "What we've said is make it very simple and clear: No staking, and no exploration without the consent of affected First Nations communities. Are they saying that? Not that I can see in the announcement."


The specific language hasn't been written yet. It will be worked out, in collaboration with First Nations, in the coming months, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said.


But the intent is to ensure that native people don't go to jail to stop mining, he said.


"We want to avoid that from ever happening again," Bryant said in an interview yesterday. He is to address the Assembly of First Nations meeting today in Quebec City.


Under the Ontario Mining Act of 1873, anyone 18 or older can obtain a prospector's licence and stake mineral claims on land in Ontario. Companies can explore without consulting native communities.


Under the reformed act, "there will be no situation where exploration will take place on traditional territories or sacred burial grounds without the consent of First Nations, without the consultation of First Nations and that is a very, very significant shift," Bryant said.