A contentious presentation at a mining symposium has raised the ire of a First Nation group and community.
He has been fighting to resume exploration on his Lake Abitibi area property after an Ontario Superior Court upheld an injunction by nearby Wahgoshig First Nation to cease exploration early this year. The court also ruled that the company did not make an effort to consult with the community despite provincial requests to do so since 2009. Stretch is appealing the earlier court decision and the Divisional Court of Ontario will hear the appeal in January, 2013.
His presentation contained references to First Nations as “hostile third-party governments” and included a cartoon image of First Nation people. His main contention is that the duty to consult First Nations, in relation to exploration, lies with the Crown and not industry.
In response, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, along with Wahgoshig First Nation Chief David Babin, is calling on the province to withdraw its support and public endorsement of “racist and radical” mining industry representatives, and named the OPA and another group called Mining United.
“I don't know if the government (will withdraw its support) but we are making a statement of our displeasure of them to continue to support organizations that condone speakers that make racist remarks,” said Yesno.
Following the presentation at the OPA symposium, Stretch was asked by a First Nation chief what his understanding of the treaties were.
“I am not here to debate the terms of the treaty. I am aware of them, but I didn't see anywhere where I had a specific obligation. The public doesn't have a specific obligation with respect to constitutional matters,” he replied.
When asked what his responsibility was, Stretch said he has a license and contract with the Crown and not with the First Nations.
“Does it also give you a license to be ignorant with the First Nations people?” an audience member asked.
“I am sure some feel that way, sir,” Stretch said.
“What I hear is not respect. I hear ignorance and I feel offended by it. To try and negotiate with an attitude like yours would be very difficult,” said another chief of a First Nation community.
“Your problem is with the Crown. I respect you as a person and as a chief but you are not my chief,” Stretch said.
“I am just not prepared to have somebody, who I am in contract with, come and change the rules and then force me to have to go and pay a third party. I don't want to serve two masters and that is what (the government) is forcing me to do.”
Treaty 9, he said, indicates that developers coming on to the land will not be impeded.
“You can interpret however you want. But there is no need for very much more interpretation of the treaty than that for me,” he said.
Yesno agrees that the duty to consult falls on the Crown and it should not be passed on to industry.
“If someone is coming into a territory, it is the duty of the government to notify the First Nation because otherwise it puts the industry in an adversarial position,” he said. “They are following the rules as best they can.”
The majority of companies are reaching out to First Nations but the “racist remarks” are not helping to foster good relations between the two parties, Yesno said.
Garry Clark, executive director of the OPA, said Stretch is not a member of the association, but a member asked on his behalf if he could present at the symposium.
“We don't review talks before people present because it is an open forum. I wasn't exactly happy with what (Stretch) was saying but it was his point of view,” Clark said.
Providing a platform for presenters doesn't mean endorsement from the OPA, including the junior miners who present their exploration programs.
“I am not endorsing their exploration programs as valid or invalid. They present what they want.”
Prior to Stretch's talk, a representative from the Wabun Tribal Council spoke on its successful system for negotiating agreements and a legal presentation outlined Aboriginal and exploration relations.
“We try to present a balanced case,” he said.