The fight over mineral exploration on traditional Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) lands is threatening to erupt into direct action. God’s Lake Resources said it will ignore an eviction notice issued by KI, but community leaders promise not to back down.
The junior mining exploration company was issued the eviction notice Sept. 29 after hunters from KI discovered an exploration camp on the north shore of Sherman Lake.
God’s Lake responded to the notice, claiming that KI was using “religion, rhetoric and bureaucracy” to make outrageous demands of mining companies. God’s Lake CEO Eduard Ludwig said the company would ignore the eviction notice and continue exploration in the winter.
The issue has left KI in a state of déjà vu, reliving the possibility of a situation that landed Chief Donny Morris and five other band members in jail in 2008. The group, known as the KI 6, ignored a court order allowing an exploration company to drill on KI’s traditional lands.
“We’re travelling down the road once again of how we dealt with the previous company,” said KI spokesman John Cutfeet.
When Morris and the others were released from jail in May 2008 following an appeal, Cutfeet said the courts set out a clear mandate that the Crown has a duty to negotiate in good faith with First Nations.
“It’s been quite clear the requirements by law, yet at the same time God’s Lake Resources continues to do what they want with a permit issued (by the Ontario government) after the 2008 ruling,” he said.
Both KI and God’s Lake point to the Ontario government’s shortcoming to set clear guidelines for consultation in regards to exploration on traditional lands.
Prior to the Oct. 6 provincial election KI issued a press release saying it would hold Premier Dalton McGuinty “personally responsible” for the transgression of traditional land if his government did not step in to stop the exploration work.
God’s Lake, meanwhile, said the two sides need government direction on how to proceed when consultation breaks down.
“We recognize that KI and (God’s Lake Resources) may have one goal in common,” Ludwig said in a statement. “The Ontario First Nations and all claimholders in Ontario need to have guidelines that help us to interact respectfully, when the recommended consultation process fails.”
The company noted that under Ontario’s Mining Act, an exploration company has only two years to carry out and report work on staked mining claims. If no work is done, the claims expire.
“Under the new Mining Act, claimholders in Ontario do not require permission from First Nations – rather, they are required to consult with First Nations,” a press release from God’s Lake’s said. “In our current case, KI chose to stonewall, rather than to communicate back on burial site locations, or allow any form of consultation.”
On the surface, the debate revolves around KI’s claim there may be sacred burial sites located on the land near the site of God’s Lake’s exploration camp.
The public conflict started when Morris accused God’s Lake of “reckless exploration” that put sacred burial sites at risk.
“God’s Lake recklessly and deliberately ignored our advice and entered the land,” 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.”
The company responded by saying KI is out of line with its demands since exploration has gone on in the area for over 70 years with no sign of graves and no attempt by KI to identify grave sites.
But Cutfeet said First Nations people in northern Ontario have been “totally disregarded” by mining companies and the government over the past 70 years. His people have been chased off the land in a “regime of terror,” Cutfeet said.
“It is only now we are starting to address and stand up for our rights to harvest and trap on our lands,” he said.
KI has asked the provincial government to create a joint review panel to address consultation protocols in the region before issues get to the point of direct action.
Cutfeet said the community needs time to complete its ongoing land use plan and identify areas of traditional uses, burial sites and other community values.
“The goal is for KI to be able to determine what types of activities take place on traditional lands,” he said. “The process will take the amount of time it will take. Until then we expect the government and companies to respect the process we’re trying to put in place.”
Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry spokesman Rick Wilson said the government remains committed to working with both sides to resolve the issue.
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