Victory for KI an Expensive Lesson for Ontario

MiningWatch Canada is very pleased with yesterday’s announcement from the Government of Ontario regarding a resolution to the three-year stand off between the community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug ("KI") and Toronto-based exploration company Platinex. The victory for KI also brings an expensive lesson to the province about the need to respect the interests of Indigenous communities.

The conflict erupted in 2007 over exploration and potential development of a platinum and chromium mine near Nemeigusabins (Big Trout) Lake, within KI’s traditional territory. The conflict received international attention when Chief Donny Morris and 5 Councillors were imprisoned in March 2008 for blocking Platinex from accessing the area. The KI 6, as they became known, were released three months later after a successful appeal of their sentence. In August of this year the community mobilised itself against Platinex once again. This time Chief Morris used a small motor boat to keep the company’s float plane from landing.

The Province has reached an agreement with Platinex to buy out the company's claims and have it drop its lawsuits against both the Province and KI. The cost of the buy-out is $5-million, a hefty sum given that in September the company’s total market capitalization was only $4.3-million. Our disappointment that the company's ignorant behaviour is being so handsomely rewarded is offset by relief that the situation has finally been resolved.

The controversial mineral claims will be “withdrawn” by the province, meaning another company can’t stake them (so long as they remain withdrawn). KI and the province have agreed to meet in the New Year to work on a protocol for decision-making on mineral exploration. This will be the important part for the people of Ontario, comments chief Morris in a December 14 press release – finding a way to prevent these conflicts in the future, one that addresses the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous communities.

MiningWatch hopes that the Ontario government will take the lessons of this case forward into its development of regulations for the recently revised Mining Act. Clearly this case points to the importance of effective engagement with Indigenous communities to address the requirements of free, prior, and informed consent before exploration and development projects proceed. It also shows the high social and economic costs that will be paid if we fail to meet this commitment.