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Making progress on mining issues in Ontario’s north


This past week, Ontario made a historic announcement and protected over 2.3 million ha of native lands from staking and prospecting in the far north. This was in response to the long standing moratorium declared by Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI).  In its announcement, the government said it withdrew the lands “from prospecting and mining claim staking to give clarity to the province's mineral exploration industry and avoid future disagreements over the land in question”.  To give you a sense of the size of this area, picture not 1 Greenbelt or 2 Greenbelts around Metro Toronto, picture something bigger than 3 Greenbelts or more than 3 Algonquin Parks (See the map here). The last time Ontario withdrew land on this scale was in 1999 during Lands for Life. The last time Ontario withdrew anything this size in one shot was in 1970 when they established Polar Bear Provincial Park.

We’ve stood by this community for 7 years. This announcement has been a long time coming. We congratulated KI and commended Premier McGuinty and Minister Bartolucci on this important development. Read more here. There is an outstanding issue though and until it is resolved, the community and folks like us will be paying close attention because claims and leases held by God’s Lake Resources (GLR) in KI’s homeland in the Boreal Forest were not affected by the withdrawal. Moreover, GLR seems to be hell bent on drilling in KI’s lands even though KI has said that no drilling will be permitted in its sacred burial grounds. GLR recently enflamed tensions by openly speculating that it “is also canvassing Security Companies to ensure the smooth completion of the drill program”. Talk about déjà-vu. Platinex tried that as well. That turned into quite the debacle for the province with concerned citizens, high profile Canadians, and even Robert Kennedy Jr. weighing in and a thousand people gathering at Queen’s Park. See more here.

Many have asked me why GLR’s claims and leases were unaffected. The reason is Ontario cannot legally disqualify claims or withdraw lands that already have mineral tenure on them. So the way these controversial claims or leases could be dealt with includes:

• the company voluntarily walking away from them (highly unlikely);
• the province and the company agreeing to a buy-out and the company walks away (this is what happened with Platinex); and/or,
• the province and/or the First Nation seeking a court injunction against the company.

The latter two options can be messy and costly. KI knows this first hand because KI was forced to defend its lands before (see above when the Platinex issue captured nation’s attention), stare down a $10 Billion lawsuit and go to jail. This took an enormous toll on the community and we should remember that Chief Donnie Morris, councillors Sam McKay, Jack McKay, Darryl Sainnawap, band member Bruce Sakakeep and head councillor Cecilia Begg, collectively known as the KI 6, served 68 days in jail to protect their ancestral lands from drilling.

Which leads me to wonder why another exploration company would try to drill on lands in KI’s territory now when KI has already made it plain as day that they are not going to back down?

Allow me to recap where we are at: Ontario has respected a First Nation moratorium call and withdrawn over 2.3 million ha in the Far North. This is great news. An outstanding issue with God’s Lake Resources covering 3500 ha remains. The community remains vigilant. We are vigilant too. Chief Donnie Morris is at the site right now. His latest you tube video from the site can be seen here.

And if you are wondering about the lands themselves, here are some reasons why everyone should applaud the withdrawal. First, the community of KI has said they are important to their grandchildren and great grandchildren and so that they can pursue their vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing. Second, the lands are at the heart of a globally significant intact watershed that the community wants permanently protected. There aren’t many watersheds like this left in North America. Finally, these lands also include some the richest carbon stores on the planet. These help regulate climate. One could argue the First Nation is not only taking care of its children and grandchildren but that it is doing its share for the planet too.

Now that 99.9% of their territory has been withdrawn from staking, here’s hoping GLR does the right thing and walks away. This community has already paid too steep a price for protecting its ancestral lands. It’s time for a new chapter.

Written by Anna Baggio, Director Conservation Land Use Planning, CPAWs Wildlands League 

Photo description: Anna Baggio, Chief Donnie Morris, Glen McInnis, Councillor Jack McKay

Photo credit: Luke Sainnawap,2008