While all sides are claiming victory, it is only fitting that negotiations took place to close this chapter of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) – Platinex – Ontario conflict in much the same way this saga began; at the exclusion of the membership of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.
On December 14, 2009, Platinex announced an agreement with Ontario, where it had “agreed to surrender its claims and leases and settle the outstanding litigation” in the disputed zone, “in exchange for an upfront sum totaling $5 million dollars in addition to the Company’s expenses throughout the Mediation process. The Company will also be entitled to a 2.5 % Net Smelter Royalty in connection with any future development on the property.”
This means that Platinex could earn a further 2.5% of mining revenues “should the province issue new mineral tenure in the next 25 years and a mine be developed.” The implications are that they will still be in the picture for the next quarter century regardless of who, if anyone, initiates mining activity in the territory. Any negotiations for mining will be impeded by this looming onus of responsibility of royalties. KI will not have the freedom to negotiate freely with this burden of royalties attached to the territory. It appears that this “victory” continues to have an overhanging cloud blotting out the silver lining.
The Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, Michael Gravelle says, “This is a unique situation, and I am pleased that we were able to reach a fair and reasonable negotiated settlement that will provide greater certainty to Platinex while allowing our government to continue working with KI to strengthen our relationship and to pursue future opportunities.”
We cannot forget that the relationship between KI and the government requires a lot of strengthening. To begin with, the authorizations provided to Platinex were done through an antiquated Mining Act and without the Supreme Court of Canada duty to consult and accommodate being properly discharged to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug. However, there is the small matter of incarcerating 5/8ths of the KI leadership for contempt. Oh yes, there is an even smaller matter of having outsiders able to make $5 million dollars + from territory claimed by KI while its members languish in poverty. On top of all of this, is the ability of the company to raise a million dollars + to run a drilling program without the knowledge or consent of KI; or at least without the knowledge of a majority of the KI membership.
Chief Donny Morris stated, “I consider the decision of Platinex to not proceed with mining exploration in our territory as a major victory. My community was determined to stop Platinex and the Ontario government from arbitrarily imposing a mine at Nemeigusabins Lake…..I think the province needs to recognize that our free, prior, informed consent is necessary or mining development in the north could become a very expensive failure.”
There is a growing call for free, prior and informed consent from communities ringing across Noopemig. This experience teaches us that all First Nations should seriously consider how to engage Ontario to make sure the province reflects the international principle of free, prior and informed consent in law. The KI experience tells us that work is required at the community level across Noopemig to make sure that all members have a say in decisions that affect the territory and their lives. Each community needs its own protocol that demonstrates how the consent of the community is to be achieved in an open and transparent manner.
This entire debacle could have been avoided if protocols and the laws as they pertain to Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug were honoured and upheld by all parties. This has been an expensive and costly exercise for all members of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who have had to carry the full cost burden at a financial, emotional and spiritual level, and yet have no financial return to show for the experience. At the community level, the lesson of moving forward without the support of the full membership should not be lost upon us in the emotional relief of “victory.”
Now it’s time for Ontario to reach out to us in a fair and sincere manner so our community can begin the process of recovery and rebuilding.
For Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, the healing from the impacts of this experience can, and must begin and your voice from Noopemig has reverberated loud and clear throughout Noopemig, the rest of the country and beyond.
Have a safe and Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year!