‘Mining rush for green energy’: Why Ontario bosses are calling for a moratorium on claims

Today, anyone can file a mining claim on the Ontario government’s website, as long as you have a few minutes, a computer, and $50. The mineral claims process occurs in an electronic heartbeat and claims are marked on a digitized map.

The result is an avalanche of claims to First Nations lands, huge administrative conflicts and frustration among First Nations who say they are not being consulted and have no capacity to address the sheer volume of mining claims.

Last week, Ontario chiefs called for a moratorium on mining leases to address issues surrounding the flood of interests related to the province’s digital sector. mineral land management systemOntario bosses said Canadian National Observer.

Critical minerals now have the means for Canada’s green industrial transition, but it is increasingly clear that the path to a green future lies through First Nations, who say they are not being adequately consulted or listened to by the governments pushing mining development.

Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek, also known as Gull Bay First Nation. Screenshot

Mining rights are predominantly carried out by junior mining companies, small companies that can operate with as few as two or three people. Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmons and author of a book on mining in the North, says the problem with the current system comes from the fact that “it can be done by any computer in the basement,” he said, resulting in a crop of shady companies betting at will on the promise of Profits.

Angus said the current scenario is not conducive to a sustainable mining industry that starts with consultation and community engagement before gambling and development.

Wilfred King, chief of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek, points out that this free-for-all system is not good for exploration companies either. It does not provide any certainty, and if there is no consultation, companies risk problems in the future, especially if they try to sell an asset that the local First Nation opposes.

It’s an argument he uses to counter Garry Clark, director of the Ontario Prospectors Association, who said CBC News that a one-year moratorium will scare away investment in the province, pointing to global competition.

Critical minerals now provide the means for Canada’s green industrial transition, but it is increasingly clear that the path to a green future lies through First Nations, who say they are not adequately consulted or listened to by governments. #Climate

On the ground, Chris Moonias, chief of the Neskantaga First Nation, estimates he receives between 10 and 20 mining or resource-related complaints a day, “so we simply don’t have the capacity or the time to address everything.” Moonias only has two administrative employees working there, in addition to dealing with the community’s other social priorities, including the housing and water crisis. On Feb. 1, the community will have been under a boil water advisory for 30 years, he said.

Neskantaga openly criticizes plans to develop the Ring of Fire, the main potential mining region located on its territory. Moonias notes that Neskantaga is a pro-development community as long as it is done the right way, but insists that the nation’s laws and protocols are currently not respected.

King said the “mining rush for green energy” is getting in the way of his nation’s other priorities and other chiefs negotiating a larger land base for their communities, as promised in the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850. Mining claims disrupt those negotiations because they prevent a mineral extraction order necessary for the Crown land exchange, he said. The process to receive the removal order could take years and even litigation, King added.

In an email to Canadian National Observer, A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said his Aboriginal Participation Fund supports First Nations throughout the consultation process.

KZA legal counsel Chantelle Bryson (left) stands with Chief Wilfred King as she announces a legal challenge over her community’s underfunded and under-resourced policing. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / National Observer of Canada

“Ontario fulfills the Crown’s duty to consult obligations on all resource projects across the province,” the spokesperson wrote. “Ontario will continue to chart a path toward meaningful reconciliation as we seek to improve the health, social and economic well-being of all First Nations.”

However, Moonias singles out Ontario for not even meeting with Neskantaga about the community’s social needs, which he says amounts to Third World conditions. Eight members of the community have died since October, including their land and resources leader and two young people around Christmas. Last week, Moonias and his council met with Ottawa; He said Ontario was invited to the meeting but did not show up.

Still, mining claims continue to pile up for Moonias and his council.

“Ontario refuses to be part of that solution,” Moonias said, pointing to the community’s need for infrastructure and social support. “Instead, they want to extract our resources.

“To be frank, they don’t give a shit about us, about our lives,” he said.

Angus said communities have nothing to lose by resisting mining development, given Queen’s Park’s neglect and Ottawa’s “gaffes” with First Nations crises. Treaties are not respected and the duty to consult is ignored, so First Nations naturally oppose the degradation of their lands.

MPP Adil Shamji, the Ontario Liberal critic for northern development and Indigenous affairs, said the clamor for a moratorium on mining claims is another example of the Ford government failing to engage in meaningful consultation. He points to a similar moratorium launched by the Anishinabek Nation, a group representing the province’s 39 First Nations, in 2022.

NDP MP Charlie Angus at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on October 16, 2023. Photo by Natasha Bulowski/National Observer Canada

Angus agrees and remembers Ford’s promise to get on a bulldozer himself to develop mining in the province. He “he is sending a message of disrespect. He’s the old “this is white land, this is a white government, let’s establish [development] and we are going to reduce bureaucracy,’” he said.

It is not yet clear what steps communities will take next and whether new court challenges will be filed, including Treaty 9’s $95 billion demand that includes precautionary measures. Last year, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the province’s Mineral Tenure Act was unconstitutional because mineral exploration circumvented the duty to consult. It’s not yet clear whether Ontario is set to receive a similar ruling.

King does believe some First Nations will take the Crown to court on constitutional grounds. But he also believes Ottawa must be held accountable for advancing its critical mining strategy, which includes subsidies to junior mining companies that stake their interests in Indigenous lands without consultation.

“The federal government is just as culpable as the provincial government in terms of what’s happening,” he said.

— With files from Isaac Phan Nay

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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