Ontario to protect 23,000 square kilometers of native land from mining

Toronto Star  Published On Mon Mar 05 2012

By Tanya Talaga Queen's Park Bureau


In a surprise move, the province has protected 23,181 square kilometres of traditional First Nation land in northern Ontario away from mining firms.

The land in question is near the territory of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. God’s Lake Resources, a junior gold mining firm, has plans for a 3,000-metre drill program in the area.

This is not the first time KI has been in a dispute over land use. Four years ago, KI was embroiled in a long-standing conflict with Platinex, a Canadian exploration firm, who sued Ontario and the Cree First Nation because they said they were prevented from accessing their mining claims.

The province spent $5 million to settle the dispute.

The ministry of northern development and mines issued a release Sunday to say they were protecting the land from prospecting and mining claim staking in order to “give clarity to the province’s mineral exploration industry and avoid future disagreements.”

However, the ministry said God’s Lake existing mining lease and claims are not affected by the withdrawal.

KI Chief Donny Morris told the Star the community has imposed a moratorium on mineral exploration and development on their land. He was disappointed to hear the ministry excluded some areas.

At issue is an old abandoned gold mine that was shut down at the start of the Second World War, Morris said. In the vicinity he said there is a gravesite. “This is our territory,” said Morris, who was jailed for 68 days during the Platinex dispute.

The government said they have tried to make several attempts to broker communication between KI and God’s Lake Resources, a junior mining exploration company that holds a mining lease and claims in the KI area.

Regardless of Ontario’s move, the conflict over protection of burial sites and sacred landscape remains unsolved, said Morris.

“I challenge the minister (Rick Bartolucci) to come to KI for an historical event where we sit down, come to agreement and sign off together to make this withdrawal permanent under KI indigenous protection. And that should include our land that Gods Lake Resources is trying to access.”

Grandmother Cecilia Begg, a band councilor, was also jailed during the Platinex dispute. “They (God’s Lake) didn’t come to us or consult with us,” said Begg in an interview.

“At the moment we are hearing negative things. They are going in with security … we want to meet with them one on one, government to government but that has failed.”

God’s Lake Resources could not be reached for comment.