Road permit irks Cat Lake First Nation

CAT LAKE – The Ontario government has left Cat Lake First Nation with no choice but to take legal action against a road permit for a mining company, Chief Russell Wesley says.

The remote First Nation 180 kilometres northwest of Sioux Lookout has filed for an injunction to stop First Mining Gold (FMG) from building an all-seasons access road to First Mining’s gold property along Springpole Lake in Cat Lake’s traditional territory.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) issued a road permit to FMG against Cat Lake’s wishes, the First Nation said in a media release.

According to Cat Lake’s release, “road construction is underway at a fast pace, and Ontario and FMG have refused to stop construction.”

Cat Lake’s Feb. 21 filing at Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay seeks an injunction against FMG building its 18-kilometre access road.

It also requests a court order suspending the MNRF’s Feb. 9 decision to permit the road’s construction.

The 430-page court filing asks that the MNR be ordered to review some prior decisions in FMG’s favour, including permission to clear forest for the road, before allowing road building to continue.

“Ontario’s actions here fall far below their constitutional duty to consult and accommodate Cat Lake’s rights,” Wesley said.

Cat Lake council declared a moratorium on new mining activity in its territory last September and the MNRF has ignored it, the chief said.

Therefore, he said, the ministry “has forced Cat Lake First Nation into the courts.”

A Chiefs of Ontario conference in November passed a motion in support of Cat Lake’s position.

Wesley said his Anishinaabe community is concerned about the impacts a large mine might have on their hunting, fishing and trapping rights.

Springpole Lake, he noted, is treasured as a home to lake trout while its surrounding area has sacred value as a home to ancient pictographs and burial grounds.

FMG touts its Springpole project as “one of the largest undeveloped gold projects in Ontario” with millions of ounces of gold and silver.

The Vancouver-headquartered company, which proposes open-pit mining to extract those minerals, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

An MNRF spokesperson confirmed by email that the ministry issued permits for FMG to create “a temporary access corridor” but said the ministry had no comment on Cat Lake’s injunction application.

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source