Talks between the provincial government and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation came to a screeching halt last week after the province was unable to confirm that it would hold back exploration in the community’s traditional territory while meetings of a joint panel took place prompting KI to walk away from the negotiation table. Protesting mining activity by God’s Lake Resources (GLR), KI has reaffirmed its stance that exploration work continues to pose a real threat to sacred sites on the land encompassed by the company’s Sherman Lake claim located 410 kilometres north of Red Lake.
First making headlines in September, the KI-God’s Lake mining dispute has been played out extensively in the news with KI insisting that sacred graves are located within the claim area accredited to GLR and God’s Lake maintaining that efforts by the company to locate those grave sites have remained unaddressed by the community. Issuing an eviction notice to God’s Lake on September 28, 2011, KI continues to call for a moratorium on mining activity within its traditional lands until proper consultation is carried out however, with a provincial license to explore, the company has confirmed its plans to resume exploration activities at the site in question.
Last week’s breakdown of talks is the latest stumbling block incurred in the battle between KI First Nation, the provincial government and God’s Lake Resources. While in KI on November 14th, Assistant Deputy Ministers from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and Mines had planned to discuss an independent panel tasked with mediating the situation, however things came to a head when the community’s condition that it would only participate in the joint panel if God’s Lake stopped work for the interim was tossed out as the Mining Act does not provide any tools that would stop the exploration.
Noting that the meeting was not intended to revolve around the Crown’s ongoing duty to consult with his community regarding God’s Lake Resources, KI spokesperson John Cutfeet confirmed that sitting down with the Ministries to discuss the proposed panel is futile if the provincial government remains unwilling to hand down a moratorium to stop work until proper consultation can be carried out.
“On May 2008, when the KI-6 were released by the Court of Appeals, it directed that the government had the duty to negotiate in good faith to reconcile Aboriginal interests with other competing interests. This law, however, continues to be ignored by Ontario and is not reflected in the “reformed” Mining Act nor have the new regulations which were supposed to be more respectful to our communities been enacted,” explained Cutfeet. “This is four years later and we are still technically under the old Mining Act which created the Platinex situation in the first place. Even though the Far North Act is supposed to allow community-based land use planning, the old Mining Act is creating third party interests on the land and claims like GLR will be grandfathered and will not be affected by land use planning under the Far North Act.”
“It is with this understanding that KI determined that we cannot sit with officials who were not prepared to effect change by claiming they have no authority when it has clearly been mandated by the May 2008 Court of Appeal decision,” he continued. “As a result of Ontario’s refusal to implement their court-directed mandate we are once again in a potentially volatile environment similar to the Platinex situation. As you are aware, Ontario paid out Platinex in the amount of five million dollars plus their mediation and legal expenses to relinquish their claims and leases—third party interests—created without following the duty to consult and accommodate. The GLR claims were established without the proper duties being discharged once again as required by Supreme Court of Canada law. KI’s position is that Ontario cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Who knows what it will cost the Ontario taxpayer this time.”
Adding to this perspective, KI Chief Donny Morris has firmly reiterated his position that KI needs a reasonable process to protect its sacred lands—a process that cannot take place, he believes, if God’s Lake continues to access its claims. “We cannot talk with your government while GLR desecrates,” wrote Morris in a letter addressed to Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci demanding less talk and more action.
While God’s Lake has remained relatively quiet on the KI front, issuing its one and only statement on the matter in October dismissing the community’s claims that burial sites are being disturbed and coming down on KI for failing to respond to the company’s requests for help in locating the ancient sites, the provincial government has confirmed that, despite the breakdown of talks, it will speak to GLR to convey “very clearly” the position of KI First Nation.
That will not be enough for KI as according to Cutfeet, the community wants more than just talk from the province which, unless mining activity is halted, stands to have another Platinex-type dispute on its hands.