First Nations decry lack of time for consultation on Mining Act reforms

 

First Nations decry lack of time for consultation on Mining Act reforms

 

BY JESSICA MCDIARMID

(c) 2008 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

 

TORONTO _ Aboriginal groups are warning there will be confrontations if the Ontario government doesn't change its approach to reforming the province's Mining Act.

 

Stan Louttit, grand chief of Mushkegowuk Council, said First Nations aren't being included in proper consultations, and that if it continues, they won't abide by new legislation.

 

“If we're not part of that process and there's empty lip service in regard to wanting to work with us, then we don't feel as if we're part of the process,'' said Louttit, whose council represents seven Cree nations in northern Ontario.

 

“Anything that comes out of the Mining Act and its enforcement and whatever else, it doesn't mean anything to us.''

 

A minimum of six months is needed to consult with communities, Louttit said.

 

The government sent information packages on Aug. 11 asking for feedback on its plans to reform the antiquated Ontario Mining Act, a move many First Nations supported. However, the original deadline of Oct. 15 for those submissions to be received raised much ire.

 

Louttit said they repeatedly complained to Premier Dalton McGuinty and key ministers, and the deadline was extended to Nov. 12 _ which still isn't sufficient for the First Nations.

 

“The quick time frame that's being implemented by Ontario is just not conducive to proper consultation,'' Louttit said.

 

“Right now they're not doing that adequately, and they've got no one to blame but themselves in the future if a confrontation arises as a result of not fulfilling that new relationship principle that they talk about.''

 

The government aims to have draft legislation introduced before Christmas.

 

Donny Morris, chief of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation, told the legislature Friday that aboriginal communities need a year to properly consult and reach a consensus on their position.

 

He said the government's current consultation practice of flying one or two members of a community to a central location for a “workshop'' is inadequate.

 

“I don't know if that can be construed as consultation,'' he said.

 

Earlier this year, Morris and his council were sentenced to six months in prison for defying a court order to stay out of the way of exploration companies Platinex and Frontenac Ventures.

 

More than two months after they were jailed, the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced the sentences to time served, and later ordered Platinex and the province to reimburse them for $25,000 in legal fees.

 

“We cannot afford to go through another heated battle with another company in the future,'' Morris said. “It's time we work together, look at the future _ no more of this excluding aboriginal peoples from their lands and the decision making.''

 

Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said the ministry is “very keen to have a truly thorough consultation process.''

 

But he said the government remains committed to the Nov. 12 deadline because there is an “active and exciting'' investment climate for mining in the province.

 

Unless the government moves quickly to put on the table the significant amendments to the Mining Act, the investment climate could be put in peril, he said.

 

“Certainly the mining sector has made it clear to us that they need clarity and they need certainty,'' Gravelle said.

 

NDP critic Gilles Bisson said the time frame is “highly unfair,'' and he noted that First Nations have a different method of consulting, which requires taking information and options back to communities to reach consensus decisions.

 

“To do that takes some time,'' Bisson said. “These are landlocked communities _ there are no roads to get into them. They're fly-in communities, by and large.''

 

Ardoch Algonquin First Nation co-chief Bob Lovelace said the possibility of his community ignoring or protesting reforms due to a lack of consultation is a concern.

 

“Maybe the government isn't aware of this … but there's a real shift in the way aboriginal people are thinking these days,'' said Lovelace, who spent more than three months in jail for disobeying a court order barring aboriginal protesters from a uranium exploration site they said was on their land.

 

“And it's not that we're thinking about blocking roads more often or escalating some sort of violent action. It's just that we're sick and tired of co-operating with government. … And we're just not going to play the game anymore.''