[Ontario First Nations] Bands stymie Ring of Fire plans – Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal Editorial – April 1, 2012

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

IN their budgets this week Ontario and Ottawa placed much stock in the Ring of Fire mineral deposit here in Northern Ontario. The province is anxious for a big boost to an economy wasted by recession. The feds want business to drive the economy. Both singled out the Ring of Fire.

But all is not well in the northern mining patch. First nations are demanding consultation. A legal “duty to consult” has failed in most cases to facilitate successful conclusions to aboriginal claims. Government can’t seem to break the logjam and while some companies have successfully negotiated agreements with neighbouring first nations, others are stymied — and annoyed.

At the mining industry’s recent national conference in Toronto, a splinter group of some 60 junior companies called Miners United met. They are concerned about native demands for concessions and cash. Bands are charging for exploratory drilling and the price often tops $100,000. Junior firms say they cannot afford it.

A new Ontario Mining Act would require exploration companies to file plans with the government and native groups, and seek permits before drilling. Many try talking but cannot make headway. Others say it’s up to government.

Ontario paid one company $5 million to abandon its claim located far across a lake from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, then withdrew 25,000 square kilometres there from development. Last week, it paid another company $3.5 million to leave its claim around a former gold mine near KI. Chief Donny Morris says he needs time to delineate a burial site he himself estimates is roughly a kilometre away. It’s been four years since the first company was paid to leave.

Matawa First Nations demand the biggest Ring proposal be subject to public hearings rather than an environmental assessment.

This is getting out of hand. Miners are frustrated, governments aren’t able to act as brokers and bands’ demands are all over the map.

Governments foresee big things in Northern Ontario, but first they must solve this riddle.

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