The Ontario-based mineral company Platinex has slapped the Ojibwa of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake) First Nation (KIFN) with a $10-billion damage suit for refusing the company permission to drill on territory the KIFN says is its own. KIFN argues that it has never signed away ownership of the land and is pursuing a land-claim settlement. Situated in northwestern Ontario, KIFN is about 580 km north of Thunder Bay. In 1998, Platinex Inc. secured exploratory rights from the Ontario government for 3,580 hectares of land in the area. In November 2005, KIFN called for a moratorium on mining and forestry on its lands. Platinex ignored requests that it vacate KIFN’s territory.
In February, Platinex workers were confronted by KIFN protesters and, later that month, blockades of access roads and landing strips temporarily halted exploration.
In a letter to the Globe and Mail onFebruary 22 Platinex defended its exploration claiming it has “huge value for the world’s environment” due to applications in pollution-regulating equipment.
Following the setting up of blockades, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) increased its presence in the community with seven additional officers. Platinex later raised a few eyebrows when the company hired a foreign mercenary to provide security for the company. According to Platinex lawyer Neil Smitheman, Paul Gladstone, an ex-British soldier, was hired to “assess and manage a potentially … volatile situation.” KIFN spokesperson John Cutfeet asks, “When will the lessons of Ipperwash* be learned?”
In May, Platinex began drilling for platinum-group-elements as part of its exploration of the region. According to a Globe and Mail article, the deposit may be the largest on Turtle Island (Turtle Island is a First Nations' term for North America).
On May 1, Platinex sought legal approval to begin drilling. KIFN filed an injunction for relief on the land in question. Platinex then filed a $10-billion counterclaim against KIFN, Chief Donny Morris, the First Nation council, and others.
KIFN insists that it should have been consulted before drilling began. Platinex has countered with accusations that Chief Morris and the First Nation council have refused to “continue consultation in good faith” and has carried on with exploration unilaterally.
Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay supports the company and says drilling should continue while the matter is being settled. Critics say Ramsay’s stance is foreclosing on the outcome of any settlement: the “right” of the mining and exploration companies trumps the right of the Original Peoples to their traditional homeland.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is also being criticized for breaking his word to Original Peoples. In a letter written on March 19, 2003, McGuinty promised to ensure environmental responsibility and “full participation by native communities” concerning land-use planning “to provide [for] a sustainable future.”
Chief Morris says the territory is the birthright of the KI community, and it demands to be involved in sharing in the bounty of its land.
KIFN’s struggle has mobilized the 49 First Nation communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). In February, NAN grand chief Stan Beardy expressed solidarity with the KIFN and disappointment with provincial authorities’ disregard for Aboriginal and Treaty rights within NAN territory.
“We had high expectations after the November 2005 Mikisew Supreme Court decision regarding Crown duty to consult and accommodate with First Nations when activities like mining threaten our Aboriginal and Treaty rights,” says Beardy. “The fact Ontario has not implemented this decision in our province sets the tone for First Nation and government relations for resource development in NAN territory.”
“Fifteen years of Supreme Court decisions have yet to be reflected in provincial and federal policies,” says Cutfeet. “Our treaty partners continue to disregard direction from the Supreme Court in dealing with our people.”
According to elder Allan Beardy, of the nearby Muskrat Dam First Nation, about 20 years ago slipshod mining exploration left the area blighted, ruining the hunting and fishing. The KIFN is determined to preserve the integrity of the sensitive muskeg environment from which some of its 1200 members still draw sustenance.
“We are not rich, nor do we have many possessions. We live a simple life, but we have a good life,” says elder Eleazor Anderson who still hunts, traps, and lives off the land.
On May 9, four citizens from KI -- Mark T. Anderson, Darryl Sainnawap, Wallace Mosquito and Dylan Morris -- began walking from Pickle Lake to Queen’s Park to raise awareness of the provincial government’s disregard for Original Peoples and the environment.
Walking between 50 and 70 km per day, the group anticipates reaching Toronto by 21 June -- National Aboriginal Day -- to bring its message to the Ontario parliament.
Lead walker Anderson said, “We want our children and grandchildren to continue to use the lands and resources to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing.”
* Ipperwash was an Ontario standoff where Dudley George of the Aazhoodena First Nation - who was unarmed - was shot at 3 times and killed by Acting OPP Sgt. Kenneth Deane.
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