For the last six years the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) has represented a front line in the battle to achieve respect for Indigenous rights and self determination in the face of unfettered mineral exploration in Ontario. In 2006 and 2007 the company stood up to the provincial government and Platinex to keep the junior company from drilling in the heart of their territory. Chief Donny Morris and five councillors were jailed with initial sentences of six months for their unwavering determination to protect and exert authority over their territory.
An appeal of the sentence was successful in having the “KI 6” released after serving half the initial sentence. The court’s decision on the appeal also chastised the provincial government for failure to meet its obligations to consult and accommodate KI regarding the exploration activities. Eventually the situation was resolved when Ontario bought up Platinex’s claims for $5-million. The conflict in KI was one of the key catalysts for Ontario to open up the Mining Act for reform, a process which is still underway, with some important gains having been made but also significant disappointments.
Not satisfied with the “reforms” introduced by Ontario, KI has been developing its own protocols and strategy for the territory. The community developed and ratified a consultation protocol and a watershed declaration indicating the core of the territory would remain off-limits to industrial development. These, and other information about the community, are available at www.kilands.org.
It was an unwelcome déjà vu when last year another junior, God’s Lake Resources, started making plans for drilling around the abandoned Sherman Lake mine, also within KI territory. Again KI insisted that they had not given their consent for the activity and expressed concerns about the proximity of the drilling operations to sacred burial grounds. GLR pressed forward and early this spring went as far as issuing a press release which stated their intention to hire security team to ensure they could undertake their drilling program.
KI and their allies, including MiningWatch, began to mobilise to ensure the community’s declarations would be respected. The community watershed declaration was circulated for endorsement. A number of YouTube videos were created explaining the communities’ position and repeatedly requesting a meeting in the community with provincial representatives. Action alerts were sent around encouraging supporters to e-mail the provincial government and insist it respect KI’s decision making processes and leadership.
Community organizers and allies also saw an opportunity in the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference (the world’s largest mining convention), which is held in Toronto every March. They knew mining would be the talk of the town and there would be both national and international media at the convention.
The well timed pressure was effective. In the words of Peter Koven of the National Post, “The last thing the Ontario government wants is another fight with the KI, especially while Toronto plays host to the mining world at PDAC.” On Sunday, March 4, the province unilaterally announced that 23,000 km2 of land would no longer be available for mineral staking.
Though a victory of sorts, KI did not celebrate. One of the most important messages KI has been trying to send to Ontario is the need to respect the treaty relationship of shared decision making and mutual respect. The Sunday afternoon unilateral announcement clearly indicated that Ontario still hasn’t heard this message.
Another problem with the announcement was that the withdraw of the lands did not, however, affect existing claims – including GLRs – and allowed the pressure of the specific conflict with GLR to build. As delegates were milling around the PDAC trade show, Chief Morris flew to and camped out at the area where GLR was proposing to drill – and communicated his presence to the world through YouTube. A delegation from the community had also flown down to Toronto. Allies hosted a well attended public meeting with the delegation and a rally and press conference were organized outside the PDAC conference. MiningWatch’s Ramsey Hart was honoured to speak at both of these events.
On March 20, with the support of MiningWatch, Ecojustice, Wildlands League and Earthroots, KI filed a petition with the Ontario Securities Commission requesting an investigation into whether the company misled investors through communications that indicated ongoing dialogue and optimistic prospects for reaching an agreement with KI. In addition to these groups, KI gained the support of a variety of other notable institutions including the Anglican Church and the Ontario Federation of Labour.
The campaign was successful in achieving another major objective. On March 29, Ontario announced it would buy back GLR’s claims for $3.5-million. This represents a tidy profit for GLR. Meanwhile, KI continues to extend video invitations to Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci; to promote their watershed declaration; and to strengthen their community. They are also interested in investigating and resolving any issues with the abandoned Sherman Lake mine, a project that MiningWatch has committed to assisting them with.