ONTARIO – A long-time dispute between PLATINEX INC., based in Aurora, Ont., and the KITCHENUHMAYKOOSIB INNINUWUG (also known as KI or Big Trout Lake) FIRST NATION, about 600 km north of Thunder Bay, came to a head on Mar. 17, when KI chief Donny Morris, deputy chief Jack McKay and four band councillors each received six-month sentences for contempt of court from the Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay.
According to a report in the Globe & Mail newspaper (“Native leaders sentenced to jail in mining protest”) on Mar. 18, “The natives are in a dispute with Platinex Inc., an exploratory drilling company, which holds more than 220 mining claims in the area to look for platinum deposits. The court issued an order last fall allowing Platinex to begin drilling, but when company representatives landed in Big Trout Lake on Nov. 6, natives and an aboriginal OPP officer threatened to arrest them if they proceeded, Mr. Justice George Smith said yesterday. ‘If two systems of law are allowed to exist – one for the aboriginals and one for the non-aboriginals – the rule of law will disappear and be replaced by chaos,’ he said.”
Reaction to the decision was swift. Howard Hampton, the leader of the NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY in Ontario, reacted by blaming the court decision on the Ontario government’s “complete and utter failure” to consult aboriginal communities about mineral exploration, although the province’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant said he has visited KI every month this year in an effort to negotiate a resolution.
NISHNAWBE ASKI NATION (NAN) stated on Mar. 17 that NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy is suspending bilateral discussions with the government of Ontario until further direction from NAN leadership, describing the morning’s sentencing of KI leadership a criminalization of Aboriginal law and custom and a complete disregard for the ‘new relationship’ the [Ontario] government is trying to establish with First Nations. NAN is political territorial organization representing 49 First Nation communities across northern Ontario.
“Today’s decision has disrespected and dishonoured Aboriginal law and custom, seriously jeopardizing any relationship with our treaty partner Ontario,” said Beardy in a news release. “We saw it last month with Ardoch and today we see it with KI.” (In February, the two co-chiefs of the ARDOCH ALGONQUIN FIRST NATION were sentenced to jail and fined as the result of a dispute with FRONTENAC VENTURES over uranium exploration near Ottawa.)
NAN established a bilateral partnership with the government of Ontario in November 2007, called “The Northern Table”, intended to jointly develop a results-based process to address and resolve current challenges in the areas of consultation and accommodation, resource development, mining, parks, and licensing permits within NAN territory.
On Mar. 18, the UNION OF BRITISH COLUMBIA INDIAN CHIEFS weighed in with its own press release. “The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs finds the jailing of Chief Donny Morris and all six council members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation to be completely outrageous. Once again the Province of Ontario has jailed community members for protecting not only their territories but their fundamental human rights,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Such brutal, heavy-handed and highly provocative sentencing by the Courts of Ontario shall only serve to exacerbate an already dangerously volatile situation Who is in control of the political agenda in Ontario, the mining industry?”
On Mar. 19, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs was joined by the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT in an open letter, calling on National Chief Phil Fontaine of the ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS (AFN) to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the AFN had signed with the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) on Mar. 4th. The letter from Grand Chief Ed John said: “We feel that in light of the recent Ontario court decision to sentence Chief Donny Morris and all six council members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, the Assembly of First Nations should immediately terminate this MOU with PDAC. The community members have been jailed for protecting their title and rights to their territories, and any continued relationship with the mining industry will be indelibly stained by these shocking events The nature and intent of the MOU has not been upheld by the mining industry, therefore again, we strongly urge the Assembly of First Nations to tear up this agreement to show unwavering support and unity for Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation.”
The PDAC also commented on the situation on Mar. 19, stating that the jailing of KI community leaders was not an outcome welcomed by the association. PDAC president Jon Baird said: “We hoped that the decision to take recourse with the courts could be avoided. But we also felt that the judge’s original decision was constructive in its directive to the parties involved to communicate and resolve their differences. There should have been scope for an amicable, mutually beneficial, negotiated resolution to the dispute without its escalating into the present unfortunate outcome.”
The PDAC release noted that conflicts between aboriginal communities and the mining exploration industry are relatively rare. There are many more examples of good relationships and partnerships and these are growing in number. A technical session at the annual convention of the PDAC, held earlier this month in Toronto, documented several examples of successful community engagement initiatives by both senior and junior mining companies, including DE BEERS CANADA’s and ATTAWAPISKAT FIRST NATION’s agreement regarding the new Victor diamond mine in northern Ontario.
Glenn Nolan, who is the PDAC second vice-president also Chief of the MISSANABIE CREE FIRST NATION, noted: “Our association is committed to encouraging co-operation and partnerships between First Nations and mineral exploration companies.” PDAC Aboriginal Affairs Committee chair Don Bubar added: “We believe that by educating our membership on First Nations’ treaty rights, cultures, traditions and respect for the land, and by publicizing examples of successful company-community partnerships, disputes such as those between Platinex and KI will be avoided in the future National Chief Phil Fontaine put it best in his remarks following the signing of the MOU when he stated that, in northern Canada ‘First Nations and mineral exploration companies are natural partners.’ We couldn’t agree more.”
For further information about this topic, contact:
– Jenna Young, director of communications, Nishnawbe Aski Nation at (807) 625 4952 or (807) 628 3953 (mobile);
– Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs at (250) 490-5314 or http://www.ubcic.bc.ca;
– Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit at (604) 926-9903; or
– Tony Andrews, PDAC executive director at (416) 362-1969, ext. 222 or www.pdac.ca.