(Ottawa) The Innu Nation and MiningWatch Canada jointly hosted a workshop on the impacts of mining on First Nations on September 10th, 11th and 12th in Ottawa. Over 75 aboriginal leaders and technical workers from over 30 communities affected by the mining industry attended the workshop. They came from Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario, Québec and Labrador.
The workshop focussed on community responses to mineral development on aboriginal land, how communities react to existing operations, and how to cope with reclamation and abandoned mines.
Innu elder Munik Rich opened the workshop by explaining how she was born in Voisey's Bay, an area which Inco Ltd. plans to turn into a giant nickel-copper-cobalt mine in the near future. "This is my land, the land and rivers belong to the Innu," said Munik. "I feel sad about what's going on in Voisey's Bay, where I was born and raised — It would be a lie to hear a non-Innu say 'this is our land,' the Innu will know it's a lie."
Innu Nation chief negotiator Daniel Ashini focussed on aboriginal land rights and the struggle to protect them in the face of mineral development in his keynote address to the workshop. "As a people, we have never recognised the jurisdictions that are now so interested in us and our land," said Mr. Ashini. "We have never signed a treaty, nor ceded a single square inch of our land. In the past losing our land was not a big issue as it was possible for Innu and non-Innu to share the land and its resources. Today we are forced to deal with governments, companies and individuals who are trying to push us aside in a great rush to claim our land as their own for industrial development."
There was wide consensus amongst the workshop participants that the government and mining industry have failed to address aboriginal concerns, and that their current approach to dealing with aboriginal communities facing all aspects of the mineral industry falls well short of what is needed.
Abandoned mines were a major issue with workshop participants. Some communities having to deal with as many as15 abandoned mines on their traditional territory. In many communities, these mines leach acidic toxins into lakes and rivers. In some cases, like the Giant Mine in Yellwoknife, the tailings have the potential to poison entire eco-systems.
Of key concern was the disruption to community life caused by the demands created by mining companies,. One of the participants described the relationship with mining companies as "having a drunk push his way into your home, break up the furniture, bully your family and piss on the rug, and then force you to negotiate the terms on which he will live in your house forever."
The workshop was closed with a rousing speech by former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ovide Mercredi on the necessity for governments and industry to recognise aboriginal rights.
MiningWatch Canada, in conjunction with aboriginal communities across the country, will address these issues through its work. Plans include a directory of competent technical experts, further networking opportunities for aboriginal activists, public education and publication of resources.
The Innu Nation is the aboriginal government representing the Innu communities of Labrador. It represents the collective rights and interests of 1,700 Innu people in two communities, Sheshatshiu and Davis Inlet (Utshimassit) under the direction of an elected Board of Directors.
It is a fundamental principle that the Innu Nation works towards the fulfillment of sovereignty and self-government, as well as the healing — physically, emotionally and spiritually — of its membership.
MiningWatch Canada (MWC) was set up in April 1999. It is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, aboriginal and labour organizations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices.
The aims of MiningWatch Canada are to:
- ensure that mineral development practices are consistent with the goals of sustainable communities and ecological health;
- strengthen technical and strategic skills within communities and organizations faced with impacts of mineral development;
- impose appropriate terms and conditions on mining and in some cases prevent the development of projects that would adversely affect areas of ecological, economic and cultural significance; and
- improve policies to improve the efficiency and reduce the risks of mineral development.
MiningWatch Canada is a direct response to industry and government failures to provide environmental protection from destructive mining practices and to deliver on their rhetoric. With technical and strategic expertise from across Canada, MWC carries out and/or supports the monitoring, analysis and advocacy necessary to affect the behaviour of industry and public decision-makers.