The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
The Ontario Prospectors Association says it wants to meet with high-ranking aboriginal leaders to clear the air after it was accused this week of supporting “radical and racist” tactics at a Sudbury exploration conference.
“We believe there has been a total misunderstanding about this, and we want to sit down and talk with NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation),” OPA executive-direct Garry Clark said Thursday from Sudbury.
Clark, who is based in Thunder Bay, emphasized that his organization is anything but racist, and said he was taken aback by the allegation.
“We’re an organization that promotes the province as a place for (mineral) exploration,” he said, noting the Sudbury conference included presentations by aboriginal representatives. About $1 billion worth of mining exploration occurred in Ontario last year, “mostly conflict-free,” among companies and First Nations, Clark added.
An uproar occurred Wednesday afternoon when NAN held a news conference at the conference to denounce what it sees “as a racist media campaign against the Wahgoshig First Nation.”
Wahgoshig has been involved in a prolonged legal dispute with Toronto-based Solid Gold Resources over exploration of a potential gold deposit northeast of Timmins around Lake Abitibi.
A court order sought earlier this year by Wahgoshig put a halt to exploration efforts there, but the company has won the right to appeal the ruling. The appeal is to take place Jan. 25.
Some native leaders were offended by a presentation Wednesday by Solid Gold president Darryl Stretch, a long-time critic of the way the province co-ordinates mining exploration.
Batchewana First Nation (BFN) called Stretch’s presentation “absurd” and “archaic,” adding it particularly objected to First Nations being characterized as “133 hostile third-party governments across the country.”
BFN noted that new provincial regulations introduced Nov. 1 “attempt to make indigenous consultation a cornerstone of mineral exploration and mine closure activities.”
Clark said Stretch’s presentation “was not reviewed or edited” before it was given. But Clark allowed there’s no doubt some exploration companies have been frustrated by a lack of clarity on what’s required of companies before they can drill on aboriginal traditional lands.
The new rules are supposed to change that.
“You have to show a record of consultation before you can get a permit (for exploration),” Clark said.
Reached at his Toronto office Thursday, Stretch denied his criticism of the provincial system contains racial overtones.
“Absolutely, unequivocally not,” he said.
“I simply said I didn’t have the money to spend $100,000 to look for some arrowheads, and somehow that was interpreted as being racist,” he said.
When it was pointed out that some exploration companies have spent money to fund archeological studies, or provide jobs for aboriginals, Stretch said:
“It was expedient for them to do it, and they had the money to do it. I didn’t.”
During critiques of the province’s exploration policies, Stretch has used language that some native groups have found distasteful. He once said the province speaks “with a forked tongue.”
“Sometimes you have to use inflammatory language to make a point,” he said Thursday.
But senior native leaders suggested such tactics only hurt efforts to successfully negotiate with First Nations.
“I do not believe that reasonable Ontarians and responsible mining industry members support (aggressive) activities and statements,” Regional Chief Stan Beardy said in a NAN news release.
“It just makes it that much more difficult to have a positive working relationship.”
In its dispute with Wahgoshig, Solid Gold has argued that it is the province that must consult with First Nations, not mining companies.
A judge who granted Solid Gold’s right to appeal said, “If the Crown wishes to delegate operational aspects of its duty (to consult) it must establish a legislative or regulatory scheme. The mining act does not presently contain such a scheme.”
Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci declined comment on the issue and Solid Gold’s appeal.
“I can’t and won’t comment on a matter that’s before the courts,” Bartolucci said in a statement.
“However, I can tell you that our government is strongly committed to promoting mineral exploration and development, while respecting aboriginal and treaty rights and private landowners, and providing greater consideration of the environment throughout the mining sequence.”