The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation has a reputation for making demands. But what does it want?
KI, formerly called Big Trout Lake, insists it wants to share in a resurgent mining boom in the Far North, but on its own terms. So far, those terms remain elusive.
Miners and First Nations need to negotiate terms acceptable to both, with oversight by the province which is responsible for mining and Crown land. Such talks have led to several successful partnerships here in the North but other relations are strained or broken.
KI forced mining exploration company Platinex to cease operations 60 kilometres from the community over allegations the band had not been properly consulted or respected concerning its traditional territory. In 2009 the province agreed to pay $5 million to Platinex to give up its mining claims. The signal to the mining industry was clear; the loss of jobs and revenue to KI, incalculable.
The province and mining companies have struggled to find a balance between the right to exploration on public land, with enormous new benefits to the entire northern economy, and the need to respect the cultural and land values of First Nations. Determining what those values are is not easy.
God’s Lake Resources acquired the 1930s-era Sherman Lake gold project, 410 kilometres north of Red Lake. Renewed testing in the late 1990s identified “several priority exploration targets near the old mine workings,” God’s Lake says on its website.
KI has an outstanding land claim in the area. It says the reserve was not given all the land it was originally promised under treaty. Sherman Lake is 120 kilometres from the KI community.
This week, after hunters found an empty camp, KI ordered God’s Lake to abandon it for “trespassing on KI spiritual and sacred lands.”
In a recent letter Chief Donny Morris stated that “God’s Lake recklessly and deliberately ignored our advice and entered the land . . . and in this reckless act may have desecrated graves of our ancestors and disturbed other important community areas and values.”
KI spokesman John Cutfeet said God’s Lake arrived “without consultation and accommodation . . .”
God’s Lake president Eduard Ludwig tells a different story. He said he’s been negotiating with KI for nine months, trying to determine where to explore and where to avoid. He said he has asked repeatedly to be shown the gravesites, without success.
He said the exploration team can find no sign of any graves but that “we want to show the proper respect.”
“Our ultimate goal is to negotiate a deal with them,” he said, “but they will not respond. They have refused to sit down and discuss this for about nine months now.”
If KI wants this thing resolved, it has to participate. It cannot expect God’s Lake to put its plans on hold indefinitely.
“We have full intentions of exploring this property,” Ludwig said, and the province has said it has no reason to order God’s Lake to stop, though that is another thing that KI is demanding.
“Our door is always open,” said Ludwig, “and we would welcome (KI) as a partner, providing jobs for community members — without all the political rhetoric.”
What is KI waiting for? Get the elders up there and show the exploration personnel what land is off-limits.
What more does it want? The mining industry, the provincial government and the people of Northern Ontario want to know.