Northern Ontario First Nations Form Alliance to Oppose Free Mining

On January 31, leaders of Ontario's Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Wapekeka, Neskantaga, and Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek (Grassy Narrows) First Nations whose combined homelands cover about 60,000 square kilometres in northern Ontario, much of it in what is known as the Ring of Fire, formed an alliance to confront what they call an "attack" by Ontario on their communities. In a statement, they called on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to meet with them and end the "free entry system" for miners in their communities.

In a news release they said a bone of contention is that prospectors aren't required to give notice to nearby First Nations until after the claim has been registered in the province's online claim staking system. Ontario, they said, does not give notice to First Nations until after the claims are purchased. These explorers do not have the "consent of the Indigenous people who live there."

Chief Donny Morris from the KI First Nation, located about 580 km north of Thunder Bay said junior miners, smaller operations often responsible for geological discoveries, were "all over" the community's homelands exploring the region digitally. Ontario switched to an online mineral claim-staking system in 2018 to encourage foreign investment. Similar systems are in place in other provinces.

"We don't want to be overrun by, I don't like to use the word greed, but somehow that's how I envision it when companies come into our territories offering us little pieces of piecemeals," said Morris. "We have got to slow things down and make the government and other industry realize there is a third part of government up north and that's the First Nations government."

Morris said he wants companies to "be honest" with First Nations and involve them in their decision-making. "How do you go about accessing our land? How do you go about accessing gold? You gotta talk to the community," he said.

Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows in Northern Kenora said that since Ford became premier, mining claims in the territory had "quadrupled to roughly 4,000 claims," mostly looking for gold. "Ontario continues to allow mining exploration companies to stake claims on our land against our will," Turtle said. "Our land and our people have endured too many impacts from industry already. We cannot bear any more."

Dayna Scott, an adviser to the Neskantaga First Nation, who is also director of the environmental justice and sustainability clinic at Osgoode Hall Law School explained that the First Nations "are worried about the new justification for mining, that it's green and it's kind of like part of the energy transition. They are definitely worried that that will lead to governments thinking that they should fast track or expedite the mining, and about how they are going to do that." 

"It's almost as if they don't know that there is already co-ordination between the provincial and environmental reviews, that there is constitutional protection for treaty rights in those processes and fast-tracking them is certainly not something that the First Nations are going to accept in relation to their territories," she added.

Scott, however, said that Ontario was benefiting from the First Nations "being divided and feeling alone," which led the leaders to forge the alliance.

"They want to meet with Premier Ford and they want to talk about achieving a system in which they feel like they can provide their consent and if they withhold their consent that will be respected by the government," she said.

(With files from the Financial Post)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 2 - February 2023

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