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Mining industry seeks an end to uncertainty created by land claims.

The one thing on which mining companies, the Ontario government and the First Nations people agree is the need to resolve Native land claims.

From a mining perspective, resolving the issue of who owns and manages the land would make for a more stable investment climate.

Patrick Reid of the Ontario Mining Association believes that "it (unsettled land claims) is another unknown the industry is struggling with."

The industry is not concerned with the merits of land claims, but rather the "tremendous uncertainty that tying up so much of this territory will create," adds Fenton Scott, president of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).

At the heart of the issue, for the PDAC, is the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) interim agreement with the federal and provincial governments.

Under that agreement, NAN communities have been given the right to question proposed exploration projects in their area.

As part of the process, an application for a work permit filed by an exploration company is sent to the affected Native community, which then has 30 days to respond.

Neither NAN, nor the prospectors, is happy with this agreement, but for vastly different reasons.

Nishnawbe-Aski Grand Chief Bentley Cheechoo says some individual Native communities lack the expertise to comment on an application for exploration work.

NAN and the two governments are trying to agree on a means of addressing First Nations' concerns within the mining industry," he adds.

Cheechoo's second concern is the 30-day response period. The Native community originally asked for 60 days.

However, the exploration industry believes 30 days already takes a big chunk out of a short working season in the north.

The 30-day period is a compromise between the two positions, says Shawn Murray, a communications officer for Bud Wildman, the minister responsible for Native affairs.

The government believes 30 days is adequate, he says, but it would be willing to extend or decrease the time frame if necessary.

Murray says the government is cognizant of the short work season and that delays could mean a year's wait for exploration work to begin.

"We don't want that to happen," he says.

Neither, necessarily, do the Native people.

Cheechoo notes that some Native leaders want mineral development to take place because of the jobs. However, there is also concern about the long-term effects on community life and the environment.

According to Cheechoo, the mining community has a poor environmental reputation to live down. The Native people "have seen the impacts in other places in the province where mining has taken place," he explains.

While the PDAC is sympathetic to the Native people's need to know what is going on in their back yard, the industry's concern focuses on what happens when questions are raised about an application for exploration.

Scott says when questions arise the province refuses to issue permits, leaving the industry with no security. He offers examples, including an application by Sandy Lake Explorations Ltd. to work near the Sandy Lake Reserve in northwestern Ontario.

If has been nearly a year since the company applied, he notes, and the issues raised by the Natives have not yet been resolved.

Cheechoo agrees that "a concern is raised and it just sits there."

He believes the Sandy Lake issue would be resolved today if the government had funded the environmental assessment that was requested by the band last summer.

According to Ray Riley, the deputy minister of operations for the Ministry of Natural Resources, there have been impediments to talks between the band and the exploration company, including the recent election of a new band administration.

Riley says a permit was issued to the exploration company prior to Christmas on the condition that it come to an agreement with the band.

The First Nation community had originally made three demands with respect to the project. It wanted the permit cancelled, a moratorium placed on all development in the area and an environmental assessment conducted.

Riley says the minister was not prepared to meet either of the first two requests. An environmental assessment will be the subject of upcoming discussions with the new council and chief.

Both Riley and Murray claim that few applications run into such problems.

Of 285 permits submitted to the province, 96 were forwarded to NAN communities for review. Of these, "only four have had major issues resulting," Riley says.
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Title Annotation:Mining Report
Author:Smith, Marjie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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