Mining, moose and consultation (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial – January 12, 2014)

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

GIVE Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug full marks for consistency. No matter what is proposed on its lands around Big Trout Lake, 375 km north of Thunder Bay, KI and its feisty chief, Donny Morris will probably oppose it. Two mining ventures — potential economic winfalls — were stopped cold and now Morris has told the Ministry of Natural Resources not to conduct an aerial moose population survey.

The band’s position is rooted in the evolving legal requirement for consultation before anything can proceed. Indeed, Morris gets credit for helping to lead this important process. First Nations must be consulted and reasonably accommodated when outside ventures like mining are proposed. And if a band wants no part of such proposals, no matter their potential to lift people out of poverty and create job training and employment, well, that is apparently its right.

No one should deny a community the courtesy of sitting down and working out rules for such things. But Morris has made such a habit of opposition that it is beginning to appear counter-productive.

Mining company Platinex was first to try to set up shop around KI. Operating under terms of the Mining Act it began exploring and there soon arose a dispute over KI’s lack of permission.

This was among the first test cases in the realm of Ontario First Nations consultation and it resulted in Morris and other band councillors going to jail for blocking Platinex staking. The group was freed on appeal and when the court criticized Ontario for failing to consult KI, Ontario paid Platinex $5 million to go away.

God’s Lake Resources was next and a similar scenario saw Ontario declare that 23,000 square kilometres of land around KI would no longer be available for mineral staking.

Meanwhile, Ontario began efforts to reform the Mining Act to accommodate consultation while encouraging mining activity. So far, it’s been largely an oil-and-water situation with some notable exceptions where First Nations found common ground with miners and are moving toward brighter futures.

KI is not fond of this process and while Ontario bought up God’s Lake’s claims for $3.5 million, the band declared the core of the territory off-limits to industrial development.

It would seem that there is no longer any possibility of mining development anywhere near KI which leaves the community to rely on existing protocols and traditions to survive.

Wildlife is at the heart of all First Nations life and the Ministry of Natural Resources manages wildlife operations throughout Ontario.

MNR told KI a month ago that it intended flying over the territory to count moose. While this does not serve as consultation, it only makes sense for KI and MNR together to know the status and health of the moose herd that the community depends on in part for its food.

Morris wrote to Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti on Dec. 20 telling him to call off the survey, claiming the community’s right to manage wildlife in its own way. Why not rely on the timely accuracy of an aerial survey to help in that management?

Morris says it’s because he suspects the ministry will use the results to restrict KI moose hunting. This is hardly the premise of the survey.

Morris is wary because an earlier survey of caribou did lead to hunting restrictions and charges against KI hunters. While that points to the need to strengthen efforts seeking common ground it would also appear to validate the need for a moose survey.