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Breaking new ground on exploration.

If junior miners exploring Ontario's Far North want a step-by-step manual on ways to consult with First Nations people, prospector Doug Parker says there really isn't one.


Like any great business deal, it's built on personal relationships and it takes time. Not just weeks or months, it's sometimes years.

"It's different every time," says Parker, a Thunder Bay-based prospector and a founder of the Boreal Prospectors Association.

But in 20 years of work in the North, he's encountered few problems with Native bands by being "open, honest and considerate."

Aboriginal engagement and improving the dialogue between industry and Native communities is an ongoing issue among his 90-member group of prospectors, Native Chiefs and development officers from more than 30 remote communities in northwestern Ontario.

The mining boom and the search for diamonds, base and precious metals has caused a staking rush by companies eager to tap into potentially new and unexplored mineral reserves.

A few hard-charging companies have run afoul of Aboriginal communities and have had exploration programs grind to a halt by protests, moratoriums or in some cases, court injunctions.

In the area north of 51 degrees latitude--the so-called Area of Undertaking--there are limits for commercial timber harvesting.

The area's only operating mine is Goldcorp's Musselwhite Mine, north of Pickle Lake.

Ontario's first diamond mine is De Beers' Victor project now under construction near the James Bay coast. The miner, which begins production in March 2008, has an Impact-Benefit Agreement (IBA) with the Attawapiskat First Nation that will produce local economic spinoffs for years to come.

Exploration is breaking new ground for Aboriginal communities who want to share in the mineral wealth generated from their traditional lands.

But there's no cookie cutter solution in working out the cross-cultural challenges.

"The cultural differences from one community to the next can be very significant," says Parker.

It's not been uncommon for mining company execs to fly into a remote village for a scheduled meeting with band officials only to find no one in attendance.

Parker says communities have varying socio-economic issues and sometimes mineral exploration is not a pressing priority. And sometimes community officials just aren't ready to negotiate exploration agreements with a big company.

"There's on-reserve issues like housing, health care, welfare, all these social issues that get into intergovernmental affairs," says Susan Barnes, Lands and Resources Director for the Attawapiskat First Nation, who deals with exploration companies for the band. "All that takes time."

But receiving no answers from band officials shouldn't be construed as indifference to exploration nor is it a green light to move in the drill rigs.

"Sometimes I've experienced it as a test," says Parker. "Really for the meetings they would like you to come and spend a week with them. To fly in to get to a 10:30 a.m. meeting and be back in your helicopter flying out at noon, that just doesn't cut it very often."

The land use conflicts arising from misunderstandings only serve to illustrate the cultural awareness gap between Aboriginal people and business.

Last year, one exploration company, Platinex Inc., made national headlines after a Native protest by residents of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nations (formerly Big Trout Lake) forced an exploration team to end its drilling program. The band council argued the company was trespassing on their traditional land without any consultation.

The Aurora-based junior sued the community for $10 billion but an Ontario Superior court judge sided with the community in their efforts to stop mineral exploration on their traditional lands. Justice Patrick Smith upheld the band's counter-injunction and blamed the Ontario government for failing its "non-delegable duty" to consult with Native bands.

The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is still working on a consultation protocol with the first draft expected out this spring.

But some on both the mining and Aboriginal side believe the government has been shirking its responsibility.

Nishnawke Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Chief Alvin Fiddler says juniors, "as a courtesy," should notify band offices at the early grass roots stage.

But he says the onus is on the Province of Ontario, not industry, to consult and accommodate Aboriginal treaty rights by formally acknowledging various Supreme Court decisions and "step up to the plate and fulfill their obligations."

He wants Ontario's Mining Act "revamped" to make Aboriginal consultation mandatory.

NAN is closely monitoring the ongoing Platinex negotiations. "Whatever happens with that case will having a bearing on what this whole consultation framework will look like."


Fiddler delivered a clear message in February at the Rapaport International Mining Conference in New York. He called on diamond exploration and mining companies to meet "basic operating standards" in consulting with First Nations on NAN territory.

NAN's 15-point document sets out what must be agreed upon before any work is done. It includes respect for treaty rights and the land.

"If there's a mine to be built in our territory there has to be a discussion on revenues going back to our communities," says Fiddler.

"We need to look into the future to build an economic base for future generations and the key is the resource that we have."

Fiddler supports Ontario's Far North Geological Mapping Initiative but says more work needs to be done.

The traditional lands outside a Native reserve, he admits, are grey areas since territories can overlap. Families move from one community to another and may still retain an interest in hunting and trapping grounds.

Fiddler says "almost every square inch" of NAN territory is claimed by a community or family and that's why companies and the government need to cast a wider net.

But just finding the right contact to get permission to explore can be a daunting task.

"There isn't a list and there's nowhere you can find out whose traditional lands you're working on," says Parker.

In some communities, the most influential person could be a development officer, a Chief, Native elder, a tribal council, a treaty group or the head of the trapline family. But that's not easy to find because of privacy concerns or out-of-date information.

That's one of the purposes of the Boreal Prospectors, says Parker.

We're trying to bring them together so there's capacity built in the industry and the communities to deal with each other because they're very foreign to each other right now."

Many communities are receptive to exploration but there's the desire that land be respected and that business, job and training opportunities be provided, especially for young people.

But companies that give short notice to bands before commencing exploration programs can have their projects delayed for months and even years.

Attawapiskat First Nation has made it clear, it will support no exploration on their traditional land without their approval.

Besides their successful De Beers deal, the community has an exploration agreement with KWG Resources.

But another company has drawn Attawapiskat's wrath for ignoring them.

This winter, diamond hunters Metalex Ventures were denounced by the band for drilling on their T-1 kimberlite project without local consent. In a news release to potential investors, Chief Mike Carpenter says the company's work 'shows disrespect' for First Nation rights.

Says Barnes, "Don't let your time lines get involved in a successful agreement."

For First Nation people, she says, their land is their sense of identity. The environmental impact and noise of drill rigs and airborne surveys can disturb the animals they hunt and fish to support themselves.

To take more control of their territory, Attawapiskat is moving ahead on its own land use planning exercise to ensure some sensitive places stay off-limits to development.

With De Beers, they've enacted environmental safeguards to monitor any toxic run-off from the mine site and a joint company and community committee periodically review permits and discuss any incidents.

Doug Parker finds more communities are building capacity to work with industry. Native people are training to become prospectors, line cutters, miners and land use planners. "It's improving in many areas."

But because of the complexities in the consultation process, Parker says it's slowed exploration activity in many remote areas.

If Parker offers any advice to business, it's to show respect for the vast knowledge of the people and the land they've lived in all their lives.

"The mineral industry, the First Nations and the communities are the best of allies when the relationship is honest and open. There's a lot of commonalities and opportunity for economic development and building relationships and partnerships."


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Previous Article:Will the Northwest region ever control its own destiny?
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