GRASSY NARROWS, Ont., — Mining and Indigenous interests in parts of Northwestern Ontario are again at odds amid allegations the province has been handing out exploration permits without consulting First Nations beforehand.
The province said Tuesday it’s committed to trying to resolve the problem that is currently impacting the riding of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development and Mining Minister Greg Rickford.
The provincial response came after Grassy Narrows First Nation asked Ontario’s Divisional Court to cancel permits on its traditional land, “which Ontario issued without consulting Grassy Narrows, and without their consent.”
In the legislature on Tuesday, Conservative and Peterborough-area MPP Dave Smith said provincial officials are to meet with their Grassy Narrows counterparts on Thursday.
Smith stopped short of pledging to cancel the permits under questioning from NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, who accused the government of “not consulting or even notifying the people of Grassy Narrows before issuing these permits. Not consulting, not even notifying.”
Smith suggested that exploration is not as intrusive as building a mine, even though it often involves drilling activity.
It wasn’t clear why Rickford (Kenora-Rainy River) didn’t respond on behalf of the government.
According to Grassy Narrows Chief Randy Fobister, the granting of exploration permits without the band’s knowledge “threatens to compound the cumulative harm that Grassy Narrows has already suffered from residential schools, hydro dams, relocation, mercury pollution, and clearcut logging.”
Fobister accused the province of “working against us.”
“They need to stop logging and mining so the land can heal,” he said. “Good land will heal our people from all the damage the government has been pushing on us, like mercury and industry.”
Grassy Narrows claims the province should have known that the band might object to up to 4,000 permits being granted on what it considers to be its traditional lands between 2018 and 2021.
The Ontario Prospectors Association says “the exploration industry has been working with Grassy Narrows in a productive way,” noting “millions of dollars” has been spent on exploration in the Kenora district of late.
When companies apply to the province for an exploration permit, First Nations are notified and the application process “allows for comments and potential modifications,” Thunder Bay-based OPA executive-director Garry Clark said Tuesday.
Permits are issued after the province determines the duty to consult with First Nations has been met, Clark added.
Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal