CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE: Where Ontario’s new Mining Act fails Aboriginal communities

Not only the prospectors in the province are dissatisfied with parts of the new Ontario Mining Act, but the Aborigi...


Not only the prospectors in the province are dissatisfied with parts of the new Ontario Mining Act, but the Aboriginal community appears to have misgivings of its own. Our faithful correspondent Bob Middleton of Thunder Bay, ON, drew my attention to an article that appeared in that town's newspaper, The Chronicle Journal, on May 1, 2009.


On the positive side, Ontario has become the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights in its Mining Act.


But the lack of communication has Chief Donnie Morris of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) wondering why no one from the government has come to his community to discuss the new rules.


Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) said in a prepared statement that he is concerned that the new Mining Act might not go far enough. "Our primary concern is that NAN First Nations must have free, prior and informed consent before any activity can take place in their homelands," he said. "That's the standard expressed in Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and that's the standard we expect Ontario to meet."


There is a great deal of uncertainty in the new Ontario Mining Act. The practical considerations and enforcement are left to regulations to be handed down sometime in the future. People are uneasy about what form they will eventually take, and the fact that they will can created without pubic review.


Moreover, the Mining Act is silent on two other areas of primary concern to First Nations: consent and revenue sharing.


The question of consent has already been raised by the KI and NAN chiefs. They want their people to have a genuine say in what takes place on their traditional lands.


The important question of revenue sharing needs to be explored. If First Nations are going to allow exploration and mining activities on their land, they should be compensated. There are many forms this could take — a royalty, contracts for their businesses, or training and well-paid jobs.


The Ontario government is congratulating itself its new Mining Act, and the Act is garnering support in some quarters. But the devil is in the details, and the details are not yet known.


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