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Matawa Chiefs call out province’s ‘exploitive, aggressive’ mine building strategy

James Bay treaty chiefs accuse province of lack of consultation in overhaul of Mining Act
Detour Lake gold mine (Company photo)

An Indigenous leadership group from the Northwest and Far North is objecting to the Ford government’s “legislative bulldozer” attempt to put more mines into production faster.

Bill 71, the Building More Mines Act, is getting some blowback from the Matawa Chiefs Council, a Thunder Bay-headquartered alliance of both road-accessible and remote communities in a region that’s exploding with exploration activity and includes the undeveloped mineral-rich Ring of Fire area.

The quickened pace by which the Ford government wants to approve more new mines has drawn the wrath of other First Nation communities, which took their beef to Queen’s Park last week.

On the same week public consultation sessions on Bill 71 are scheduled for Sudbury and Timmins, the Matawa Chiefs Council issued a “unified political statement” about a month after Mines Minister George Pirie tabled the bill in the Ontario legislature in early March.

In a news release, the leaders say the government’s approach with this bill is “exploitive and aggressive” and runs contrary to the principles of reconciliation and the spirit and intent of James Bay Treaty No. 9.

The chiefs point out that the treaty area encompasses 11 operating mines that directly and indirectly employ more than 7,800. By way of exploration projects, 118 of 188 sites are of interest to the chiefs, with 51 of these sites being much-coveted critical mineral plays.

The aim of these amendments of the Ontario’s Mining Act is to reduce provincial permitting and approval times to put more new mines into production quicker to meet the coming world demand for high-tech, or critical, minerals, such as nickel, copper, palladium and lithium, among others.

In their submission to the province’s standing committee on Bill 71, in advance of upcoming public hearings this week, the Matawa leadership say they were “informed” by the government, “not consulted,” and only notified by letter on March 2 as a “courtesy.” That was the same day bill was put forward.

“This approach is the strictest interpretation of the colonial legal position that is being taken by Ontario, without regard or an effort to consider meaningful partnerships and reconciliation,” the council said in the release.

The chiefs council consists of the communities of Aroland, Constance Lake, Eabametoong, Ginoogaming, Long Lake #58, Marten Falls, Neskantaga, Nibinamik and Webequie.

Two communities, Marten Falls and Webequie, are the government-backed proponents of a north-south road network that would be used by industry and would connect these isolated communities to the provincial highway network.

Aroland is in the area of the southern terminus of the road where a potential road-to-rail transload facility would be located. 

On the day Bill 71 was introduced at Queen’s Park, Mines Minister George Pirie was asked by Northern Ontario Business if First Nations had been consulted on the legislation to get their collective input.

Pirie responded the government was “engaging” with Indigenous communities and organizations on these proposed changes and will be consulting on all future regulatory changes.

“But there is no impact on the duty to consult with these changes that we’re talking (about),” said Pirie, nor, he added, will there be any changes to denigrate Ontario’s “world-class” environmental regulatory regime.

A secondary issue raised, but one of great concern to the chiefs, is mining companies going back into old mining camps to recover minerals or mineral-bearing substances from mine tailings and waste piles.

To this end, the government would issue a ‘recovery permit.’

The chiefs view recovery permits as government’s attempt to “side step” its duty to consult and accommodate First Nations. They argue these sites may be the source of old grievances and that Indigenous consent and revenue sharing or historic compensation must be taken into account.

Potentially, there could be an estimated 295 former mines across Ontario that industry could have access to.

The Matawa chiefs have further issues with mine closure plan amendments in proposing that mine. One part of the bill proposes removal of the position of Director of Mine Rehabilitation and to give the powers and duties directly to the minister of mines.

The chiefs said removing professional technical supervision by provincial bureaucrats and allowing this oversight to be privatized or turned over to industry is akin to the “fox guarding the henhouse.”

Public consultation sessions by the Bill 71 committee are in Timmins on April 5 and Sudbury on April 6, not in any rural or remote access First Nation community, the chiefs say.