KI ‘wins’ in mining’s loss – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (March 7, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

THERE is frustration bordering on resentment in today’s letter from geologist John Scott concerning the Ontario government’s withdrawal of 23,000 square kilometres of northern land from mining. Curiously, there is not a concurrent level of joy in the response of Donny Morris, chief of the area’s Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, who has been leading prolonged opposition to mining exploration anywhere near KI except on its terms, which remain elusive. Instead, Morris claims he was caught off-guard by Sunday’s announcement by Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, though his office says it tried several times to make contact. Morris challenged the minister to visit the reserve to discuss the boundaries of the land.

 By Morris’ own count, his band and the province have been discussing the future of this land mass since 2001. There is a time for talking and a time for doing and it appears that Bartolucci has called Morris’ bluff. Unable to settle with KI on how to proceed, and facing mounting pressure from the mining industry for certainty on where it can look for minerals, Bartolucci withdrew this giant chunk of land “to give clarity to the province’s mining exploration industry and avoid future disagreements over the land in question.”

 Is this really what KI and its people want, while other bands, particularly those in the region around the rich so-called Ring of Fire mineral basin, work with mining interests for mutual benefit?

 Scott says the land in question holds “very high” potential. Morris complains that a location that was a primary source of conflict is still open for exploration. He says a spot containing the graves of KI people’s ancestors near a former gold mine is now being worked by Gods Lake Resources. Bartolucci was not about to include that land. It is still being legally explored after the government paid $5 million to Platinex, a company frustrated in its attempts to work out an arrangement with KI before agreeing to leave.

 KI has said Gods Lake showed up “without consultation and accommodation.” Company president Eduard Ludwig, in a letter to this newspaper last October, said he’d tried for nine months to get KI members to show him where his geologists could work and what land to avoid, without success.

 A ministry spokesman said Tuesday staff “has tried for almost three years to work out an arrangement with KI whereby we could visit the area to identify their sacred sites and afford necessary protections. Given the community’s refusal to acknowledge these requests, and to avoid future similar situations, we made a decision to withdraw the land based on information provided in the past by KI.”

 There is no doubt that Ontario’s governments and mining industry took first nations for granted in earlier times. But over the past decade in Ontario, “first nations and industry have signed over 90 mineral development benefit agreements,” the province said in a release Monday.

 At the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto this week, Bartolucci put the value of Ontario mining exploration in 2011 at more than $1 billion, a record, with roughly 600 projects underway. The Ring of Fire holds immense promise to boost that substantially and communities throughout the North stand to share in the spin-off benefits.

 Morally and legally, miners must negotiate with first nations to include them in employment and a share of revenue. Many band councils have done that and others are in talks. But KI is among a handful of bands that continue to resist the opportunities that are already coming from this new mining exploration boom.

 Garry Clark, head of the Ontario Prospectors Association, calls the removal of 25,000 square kilometres of highly promising mineral land “worrisome” and wonders if the government’s decision sets a precedent involving other first nations that might be unable to reach agreements with mining concerns.

 We sincerely hope that does not happen. Northern Ontario is desperate for new economic development and mining is enjoying a brand new boom across the region. Every community, first nations included — KI included — stands to reap benefits. Environmental and wildlife safeguards are built into the provincial process which can and must work for Northerners and miners alike.