We’ve all heard a great deal these past few weeks regarding the sentencing of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation members (now under appeal) resulting from a dispute between the community and the exploration company Platinex.
While I am personally very disappointed and indeed saddened to see First Nations community members in jail, it is important to say that this unfortunate situation does not in any way lessen our government’s resolve to work cooperatively with Ontario’s Aboriginal communities.
Certainly, the Ontario government takes its duty to consult very seriously and we are committed to meeting that duty on an ongoing basis.
Prior to recent efforts by my colleague, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, to broker a solution, my ministry was actively working with KI and other First Nation communities in a number of ways including:
• visiting communities and attending community meetings to share information about exploration and mining;
• providing prospector training courses;
• inviting communities to participate in our government’s Far North Geological Mapping Initiative;
• entering into memoranda of cooperation to guide community partnerships in MNDM’s mapping projects;
• facilitating dialogue between communities and the minerals sector, including providing funding to enable community participation, and technical review; and
• encouraging the industry to have early and ongoing contact with communities and to build relationships.
Ontario also sought and was granted intervenor status to participate in the injunction proceedings regarding the dispute between KI and Platinex because we wanted, clearly, to play a role in finding a resolution.
In that regard, Justice Smith in his decision of May 2007 indicated that in the KI Platinex case the government is meeting its legal duty to consult.
However, we recognize that the duty to consult is not a one-off but a continuing obligation. It involves both sides working together. I am proud to say that we are committed to continue that work.
We believe strongly that Ontario’s mineral sector can provide meaningful opportunities for economic development and job creation for many Aboriginal communities, particularly in the North where communities are often remote.
The fact is that Canada’s mining industry is the largest private sector employer of Aboriginal peoples. There are many examples in Ontario of mining companies and First Nations working together to the benefit of all.
That’s why my ministry has been working over the past several years to continuously improve relationships and engagement processes with Aboriginal peoples. This includes encouraging the industry to have early and ongoing contact with communities and to build relationships.
We also initiated a comprehensive engagement process aimed at developing more effective Aboriginal consultation approaches for mineral sector activities.
Last year, we released a discussion paper as one part of a multi-pronged engagement process that has included numerous meetings, workshops, pilot projects, and information-sharing sessions across the North. To date, my ministry has received positive, detailed feedback and advice from many Aboriginal communities.
While this work continues, my ministry is responding to what we’ve heard by implementing some transitional measures to help enhance our consultation activities. These measures include providing better access to information about where staking and exploration activity is occurring, and the withdrawal of important cultural and heritage sites from staking.
In addition, we will continue to enrich the support and advice we provide to the minerals industry on when and how to engage Aboriginal communities.
Last but certainly not least, we have committed to a review of the Mining Act. We need to ensure that, as the Premier stated, the Act meets our 21st century values. However, I believe it is vital that we find the right balance so that economic development opportunities are open to First Nations and other communities.
Through cooperation, communication and meaningful engagement, our government is committed to ensuring opportunity and prosperity are within reach for all Ontarians.
As Minister of Northern Development and Mines it is my commitment to do everything I can to meet that goal.