MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: First Nation communities want to be included in mining talk

Published by MAC on 2009-01-19
Source: Chesley Romain, Timmins Taily Press

First Nation communities on the James Bay Coast are putting a stop to new mining and exploration projects on traditional land, saying their rights have been ignored for too long.

Members of Mushkegowuk Council recently passed a resolution stating they will no longer accept any new mining activity on their Native homelands.

"The key ingredient that's missing is the issue of consent," said Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Stan Louttit.

Louttit said some companies have been very accommodating to First Nation communities, having discussions as to what will be done, but many have not.

"It's a very simple thing to do," said Louttit. "If no consent is given, that company should pick up and leave. If consent has been achieved, then we can work with that company to further that development."

The resolution passed by the council states that banning new resource development projects will last until the province's new Mining Act includes provisions for the full consent of First Nations and First Nation-approved land-use plans. Also, the resolution asks that companies are obligated to enter impact benefit agreements, where profit sharing, along with other community benefits, are achieved.

"Right now there is no legal obligation that says they have to negotiate revenue sharing," Louttit said.

One example of how a community can benefit from mining activity taking place on traditional lands, Louttit said, was the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Attawapiskat.

He said with both federal and provincial governments, as well as the company, benefiting from the project, the only way the people of Attawapiskat would see any of the benefits would be to enter in the impact agreement.

"There was no obligation on De Beers' part to seek consent and enter the agreement, but they did," Louttit said.

He added that the community has seen opportunities in the form of jobs, training, revenue sharing and partnerships.

Supported by a number of Ontario environmental groups, including CPAWS Wildlands League and the David Suzuki Foundation, Louttit said the resolution also is being supported by a majority of First Nation communities under the Mushkegowuk Council.

"There is quite a bit of activity in most of the territory along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coasts," Louttit said. "For the most part, we don't know who these companies are and very few have come forward."

In terms of various environmental groups coming forward with their support, Louttit said it helps make their case stronger. Having the groups included also ensures plans are environmentally sound.

"We believe is is in the best public interest to support the Mushkegowuk Council resolution," said Anna Baggio of CPAWS Wildlands League in a press release. "It has all the right ingredients and will position Ontario as a national leader."

While mining activity has been taking place on traditional First Nation land, Louttit said now is a good a time to show First Nation communities will no longer sit by and wait for companies to come to them.

"It's getting to the point where our lands are being invaded, and we've been very patient up until this point," Louttit said.

As for as companies currently on Native land for mining activity, Louttit said he is hopeful they will be respectful of the council's decision.

"If they respect our desire, they would come forward after receiving our notification and want to meet," Louttit said.

"What we're hoping is they will do the right and moral thing and respect our desire to be consulted."

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