Less than one week before Ontario voters head to the polls, a controversy over mining in Ontario’s Far North has a northern First Nation threatening to hold Premier Dalton McGuinty “personally responsible” for transgression of sacred burial grounds.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation has asked the premier to intervene and stop what it calls “reckless exploration” on its traditional lands by junior gold mining company God’s Lake Resources.
The First Nation also issued an eviction notice to God’s Lake Resources Sept. 29, banning the company from lands KI claims contain numerous sacred burial sites.
Hunters from the community discovered evidence of exploration work on the north shore of Sherman Lake, near an old gold mining shaft.
KI said that God’s Lake Resources has staked new claims, without any negotiation, in an area where the First Nation had declared a moratorium on any development.
“God's Lake recklessly and deliberately ignored our advice and entered the land,” Chief Donny Morris said in a press release. “And in this reckless act may have desecrated graves of our ancestors and disturbed other important community areas and values.”
Morris called on McGuinty to prevent the company from exploring for gold on his people’s sacred sites.
“Ontario has failed in its duty to recognize our rights to express our spirituality and protect our sacred sites and burials under international, Canadian and KI law,” said Chief Morris. “Premier McGuinty must intervene immediately to right this wrong or he will be personally responsible.”
But Rick Winston, senior communications officer for the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF) said the mining company was just “walking around the site” and not engaging in active exploration or drilling.
Winston said his department remains committed to working with both sides to resolve the issue.
God’s Lake Resources CEO Eduard Ludwig was unable to reached for comment.
KI hunters first discovered the camp Sept. 23 when they came across two tents and a canoe on the north shore of Sherman Lake.
Members from the First Nation, including spokesperson John Cutfeet, took a follow up trip to site Sept. 28.
Cutfeet said two tent frames remain standing near the old mine shaft and that it looked like the site had been vacated recently. He also saw pink flagging tape among the old mine tailings area.
Cutfeet took exception to the government’s claim that no burial sites were disturbed during God’s Lake Resources’ time in the area.
“We know there is a burial site less than a 20 minute walk from that area,” Cutfeet said. “I have my grandfather and his brother also buried somewhere around there. So how can they claim that no burial sites were disturbed?”
But the First Nation’s biggest concern is the government issued an exploration lease in the area without KI’s consent, Cutfeet said.
He cited an Ontario Court of Appeal decision in 2008 that said government has to hold good faith negotiations with First Nations before granting exploration leases on traditional lands.
That Court of Appeal ruling came after Morris and five other KI members were imprisoned in 2008 for not allowing junior mining exploration company Platinex Inc. to explore on traditional land.
Cutfeet said that according to the appeals court ruling, God’s Lake Resources should never have been awarded a mining claim without First Nation consent.
In a Sept. 28 letter, MNDMF officials told the First Nation that department staff would be available to visit the area alongside community leaders and Elders for a first-hand view.
Cutfeet said the community is drafting a response asking how the government plans to rectify the situation.
“We’re back in exactly the same situation we were in 2006,” Cutfeet said, referencing the situation with Platinex. “That’s the frustrating thing.”
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