The relationship between First Nations, the mining industry, and the province remains strained — but there’s hope that progress can be made after June 7
THUNDER BAY — For the first time in Ontario election history, every major party is running on a promise to share natural resource revenue with First Nations.
The relationship between First Nations, mining interests, and the province remains fraught and consultations can be strained, but the tenor of the conversation has changed: Ontario has gone from jailing First Nations leaders over grassroots protests to sitting at the negotiating table with them to work out resource-sharing deals.
In 2008 an Ontario Superior Court decision jailed the leadership of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) — a fly-in community located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. KI had expressed strong opposition to a mining company called Platinex drilling on its traditional territory, which had happened since 2001.
The First Nation declared that neither the company nor the Ontario government — which granted Platinex a track of Crown land that the company had staked a claim to — had adequately consulted KI. The leadership was convicted of contempt after they prevented Platinex staff from entering the community; Chief Donny Morris and five councillors — who came to be known as the “KI Six” — were sentenced to six months in jail.
A decade later, KI continues to oppose the province’s authority to license mining in its traditional territory, but resource revenue-sharing deals between Ontario and First Nations in other areas of the north have set the stage for how the parties could see those relationships evolve under Ontario’s next government.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats have made vague promises to share resource revenues with northern communities in past elections, but the Liberal deal has set a practical example that frames the discussion for 2018.
Seventeen of Ontario’s 38 operating mines are located in an area covered by natural resource revenue-sharing deals that the provincial government signed in March with Mushkegowuk Council, Wabun Tribal Council, and Grand Council Treaty 3. Those deals will transfer 40 per cent of existing mining tax and royalties to First Nations in those territories, as well as 45 per cent of taxes for future mines.
In the forestry sector, 40 per cent of provincial stumpage revenues — a fee foresters pay to the government for harvesting trees — will go to First Nations. Communities are also free to sign impact benefit agreements directly with resource communities.
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