Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation is preparing for what may be a confrontational winter after talks on traditional land use with the Ontario government broke down last week.
KI disbanded the joint KI-Ontario panel Nov. 14 after government officials said they were unable to stop God’s Lake Resources, a junior gold mining company, from exploring lands around the community while the panel meets.
The First Nation also sent an angry letter to Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) minister Rick Bartolucci, accusing the government of ignoring KI’s concerns and threatening direct action.
“We need a reasonable process to protect our sacred sites,” KI Chief Donny Morris wrote in the letter. “That process cannot take place without assurances that (God’s Lake Resources) will not access the land and where the sites are. We cannot talk with your government while (God’s Lake Resources) desecrates.
“If you cannot give us this assurance then there will be no panel and we are inevitably going down the path of the Platinex dispute, a path that led to our jailing,” Morris added.
Ministry spokesperson Rick Winston would only say that “the government will continue ongoing efforts to work with all the parties.”
But Michael Gravelle, minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, told CBC the government would take KI’s concerns to God’s Lake Resources as a follow up, despite the disbanding of the joint panel.
“They committed to Chief Morris and to KI First Nation that they would go back to the company, to God’s Lake Resources and convey to them very clearly the position of the First Nation,” Gravelle said.
The discussions between KI and senior government officials followed a Sept. 29 eviction notice KI issued to God’s Lake Resources. The eviction notice came after KI hunters found the remains of an exploration camp that the community had no prior notification of.
In a press release following the eviction notice, God’s Lake Resources said that under Ontario’s Mining Act it has two years to explore on claimed lands or the claims expire.
The company also said it has had no response to letters sent to KI leaders, in which it asked to work with the First Nation.
God’s Lake chief executive officer Eduard Ludwig told Wawatay News Oct. 27 that he hoped KI and the province could establish a consultation framework that both his company and KI can work with.
“We would like to still speak with KI,” Ludwig said at the time. “Our door is open at anytime to engage in some sort of consultation process.”
The land under dispute was the site of a small gold mine that was active from 1938 to 1942.
KI claims there are numerous burial sites in the area. Work to identify and mark those graves has begun, but KI spokesman John Cutfeet said the work will take time to complete.
The community is also undertaking a land use plan to identify areas of traditional use and other community values, Cutfeet said.
“The goal is for KI to be able to determine what types of activities take place on traditional lands,” Cutfeet said. “The process will take the amount of time it will take. Until then we expect the government and companies to respect the process we’re trying to put in place.”
In the letter to Bartolucci, Morris identified a number of areas his First Nation intended to address within the joint panel framework. Included in the list were new legislation that would prevent similar disputes in the future and resolution of outstanding issues related to the Platinex dispute in 2008.
Morris and the “KI 6” spent 58 days in jail in 2008 after blocking Platinex, a platinum company, from entering traditional lands.
They were eventually freed by an appeals court decision that put the blame for the dispute on Ontario’s Mining Act for allowing mining companies to conduct aggressive exploration on First Nations’ land without any consultations or environmental assessment.
Christmas has never been a normal affair for me my entire life. This year it seems that no one will be able to call this a normal Christmas.