PC government ignoring First Nations’ support for mining moratoriums, says chief

By Alan S. Hale January 7, 2024

A button — featuring Premier Doug Ford on a bulldozer — was unveiled by the Cat Lake First Nation at the Chiefs of Ontario conference in November. It represents the First Nation’s “unwavering commitment to defending their land and culture.”

The conflict between the PC government’s mining ambitions and Indigenous communities seems set to escalate after multiple resolutions supporting restrictions on mining-related activity on First Nations territories were endorsed at the Chiefs of Ontario’s (COO) general assembly in November.

One resolution called on the province to implement a one-year moratorium on registering new mining claims within First Nation traditional territories via Ontario’s Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS) and directs the COO to conduct a “technical review” of the impacts of the MLAS system on First Nations and their rights, as well as the use of mining claims for “purposes other than mining.”

The COO also passed a motion endorsing Cat Lake First Nation’s own moratorium on mining exploration and winter road construction. The moratorium is aimed at blocking First Mining Gold’s proposed Springpole Project gold mine — which would involve draining part of a lake in their territory and turning it into an open-pit mine — until the First Nation and its neighbours complete internal discussions on whether to consent to the project.

Meanwhile, the province indicated last month that it is considering granting the company a permit to build and maintain a winter road to the project for the next five years. The company has already been granted a shorter permit for a winter road to the Springpole site, which is normally accessible only by float plane, for this year.

Cat Lake First Nation Chief Russell Wesley argues the PC government’s signalled support for the permit ignores the will of his community and the collective desires of First Nations demonstrated by the endorsement of the moratorium motion at the November assembly.

“I don’t take any offence to the company wanting a permit, this is a normal thing, but what I do take offence to is that there is a moratorium and now a resolution that has gone to the relevant ministers and the premier’s office,” he told Queen’s Park Today.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford and Mines Minister George Pirie’s offices did not respond to a request for comment.

An unwelcome Christmas present

On December 22, the Ministry of Natural Resources sent a letter updating Cat Lake on an application from First Mining Gold for a five-year permit to build and maintain a winter access road to the Springpole site.

“This is not a Christmas present anyone would want,” said Wesley.

Wesley, who has said he is willing to risk arrest to block the Springpole Project if it proceeds without his community’s consent, said that after receiving the letter he directed his administration to develop an “action plan on occupation,” but his staff talked him down, arguing such action would be premature.

Instead, the community sent out a press release accusing the PCs of making a “decision [that] sends a clear message to Cat Lake First Nation that our consent and concerns hold no weight with Ontario in matters concerning our own territory.”

The natural resources ministry said its letter does not mean a final decision on the permit has been made, but was “intended to provide updated information regarding the permit applications that First Mining Gold has submitted.”

Consultations are still ongoing, the ministry added, and a meeting with Cat Lake is scheduled for January 17.

A foregone conclusion

For Wesley, past experience shows the issuance of the permit is inevitable and that the government’s consultation with First Nations involves little more than completing a checklist on a foregone decision.

“Checkmark, thank you very much. On to the next phase. It’s so typical, the letter is just a procedure,” he scoffed, adding that the Ring of Fire consultations are being carried out in much the same way.

“I get emails all the time for Ring of Fire permits. They just send out blanket permit emails.”

Wesley’s perception has been reinforced by indications that First Mining Gold has already begun hiring contractors to build the road. One Sioux Lookout contractor interested in the project even called the First Nation about it, the chief said.

“He was verifying what First Mining Gold was telling them — that they were on the verge of
getting the necessary permit to build this winter road,” said Wesley.

First Mining Gold did not respond to a request for comment.