Crown has to respect treaty rights: Wabauskang Chief Leslie Cameron – by Jon Thompson (Kenora Daily Miner & News – December 24, 2012)

Facing a lawsuit that could threaten its Phoenix Mine at Red Lake, Rubicon Minerals is not only vowing to fight back in court but to work with Wabauskang First Nation, who launched the suit on Thursday.

Based on an Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision that could redefine harvesting rights in the province, Wabauskang has asked a provincial court to either suspend or entirely cancel the approval of Rubicon’s closure plan, the primary authorization that will allow the company to begin production. The case, known as the Grassy Narrows Trappers’ Decision, found only the federal government can alter treaty agreements. The province has appealed that decision.

“We would rather not go to court, but until Canada and Ontario fulfill their responsibilities to us, we have no choice,” said Wabauskang Chief Leslie Cameron, arguing the province has unlawfully delegated its consultation responsibilities to the company. “Rubicon talks about their consultation, but where’s the government’s consultation? Ontario relied on Rubicon. That’s not right.”

Cameron compared her community’s case to that of Wahogshig First Nation’s case against Solid Gold Resources, which that First Nation argued in court on the same day Wabauskang filed its suit. She said Wabauskang will be closely watching the decision on Wahogshig, which is expected in mid-January 2013.

“We can’t stand by and let the federal government and Ontario delegate their duties to mining companies. It’s the Crown’s responsibility to respect our treaty rights.”

Rubicon argues it has met “in good faith” with the community since January 2009 and has undertaken a $300,000 effort to consult with Wabauskang’s leadership, including paying for and promising to adhere to every recommendation of an environmental review led by a consultant of Wabauskang’s choosing. It has retained a First Nations-owned company from Lac Seul for aspects of the project, hired a Metis-owned contractor and was in the midst of negotiations on a benefits agreement that would give Wabauskang contracting and employment opportunities.

Rubicon president and COO Mike Lalonde invited Wabauskang’s leadership back to the table to continue what he insists has been a relationship of respect and due diligence.

“We’re proud of our record so far. We believe we’ve consulted the aboriginal communities in good faith. We’ve been meeting with Wabauskang since January of 2009 and we’ve spent a considerable amount of money on per diems and travel for First Nations to attend meetings,” he said. “We certainly do intend to defend the action and we believe (the lawsuit) is without merit. At some point in time, this is all going to be behind us so we want to leave the door open.”

Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci did not respond to interview requests.

For the original version of this article, please go to the Kenora Daily Miner & News website: