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Land withdrawal does not quell First Nation dispute

Removing Crown land from mineral exploration does nothing to resolve a territorial dispute between a junior mining company and a remote First Nation community in northwestern Ontario, said the band chief.

Removing Crown land from mineral exploration does nothing to resolve a territorial dispute between a junior mining company and a remote First Nation community in northwestern Ontario, said the band chief.

Donny Morris fails to see how the provincial withdrawal of 23,181 square kilometres of land in the vicinity of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (K.I.) addresses their demand for a halt on gold exploration by God's Lake Resources.

“This where we keep harping on the government, this is where consultation comes in, so where exactly are these lands that are withdrawn?”

While the Ontario government heralded it as a step to addressing the impasse, Morris called it “a smokescreen” that sends out the wrong message.

The disputed area where the exploration firm is working is 83 kilometres north of the village of 1,300.

One of the company's claims are on the Morris family trap line, which is also considered a sacred birthplace and gravesite.

The government maintains the land being withdrawn is based on information provided by K.I. in the past, and should provide “clarity” to industry and avoid future conflicts.

The announcement likely was made as a pre-emptive move in advance of a planned community protest this week outside of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's (PDAC) annual show in Toronto.

The timing of the release was not lost on Morris.

“They thought I was in Toronto, but I'm here at home enjoying a cup of coffee,” said a chuckling Morris on Monday morning.

The junior miner's claims in the area are not impacted by the withdrawal.

According to its website, God's Lake Resources has one block of 16 leased claims at its Sherman Lake gold project, 400 kilometres north of Red Lake.

The Toronto miner has plans for a 3,000-metre drill program for the upcoming field season. A former mine nearby produced 56,562 ounces of gold over a four-year span until it closed in 1941.

God's Lake said there are several untested targets near the old mine site.

Company president Ed Ludwig declined a request for an interview, adding he would issue a statement after the PDAC. But last October, he called the community's accusations “reckless,” adding all correspondence addressed to chief and council requesting consultation have contained responses with “politically charged rhetoric.”

Morris said negotiations with the province broke off Nov. 14 after community leaders felt they were making no headway in talks with deputy ministers from Northern Development and Mines, Natural Resources and Aboriginal Affairs.

A ministry official with knowledge of the negotiations and the land withdrawal was not immediately made available for comment.

In a March 4 statement, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci said the government wants all parties to benefit from mining.

“When industry and First Nations communities work together on the basis of mutual respect and understanding, all parties see the economic benefits.”

The government said it remains committed to continuing discussions and in meeting its constitutional obligations to Aboriginal people.

Morris is pushing for a joint panel discussion with the province to address all issues and avoid any future flare-ups.

In a YouTube video posted in February, Morris warned the OPP that protests could escalate this winter at the God's Lake drill site if the province didn't call a halt to exploration until a community land-use planning process is complete.

“We had given them (God's Lake Resources) an eviction notice and we want them (the OPP) to enforce it, if not, we'll be over there.”

Morris wants the company to walk away from the project with the option of returning in two years when the planning process is complete.

He was one of the “K.I. 6” who spent 68 days in a Thunder Bay jail in 2008 for blocking exploration by junior miner Platinex on a platinum property near the community.

The dispute resulted in the province reaching a $5 million settlement with Platinex to relinquish its mineral claims in return for the company to drop its multi-million dollar lawsuit against Ontario and the community.

Morris said if this issue drags on, a similar scenario will unfold, and it will cost Ontario taxpayers plenty.

“Do it now so it's not an extravagant number in the future.”