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Sudbury aboriginal community seeks resource, land compensation: Whitefish Lake sues feds and province for $550 billion.

A Sudbury area First Nation band is suing the federal and provincial government for compensation of natural resources extracted from their traditional lands.

The Whitefish Lake First Nation filed a land claim with the Ontario Superior Court Justice asking for $550 billion against the province of Ontario and Canada for profits derived from the extraction of mineral, timber and other natural resources since 1850.

The community of 880, located 20 kilometres southwest of Sudbury, covers about 43,700 acres. It's attempting to reclaim Crown land in an area of more than 200,000 acres covering Greater Sudbury, Lake wanaptiotei, Dowling, Nairn Centre and parts of Killarney and the French River.

"We're looking to make sure Whitefish Lake rights are respected," says Aaron Detlor, a Toronto lawyer representing the reserve. "We believe agreements can be worked to ensure everyone's rights are respected."

Detlor is currently involved in the Caledonia land dispute involving the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario.

Whitefish Lake First Nation was a signatory to the 1850 Robinson-Huron Treaty that saw the band give up much of its traditional land to the Crown.

Detlor says the treaty outlined a specific description of a financial benefit flowing to the signatories. During negotiations, the parties agreed to an interim annual annuity of $4 for the value of land the First Nation was giving up.

He argues $4 is "meaningless" and doesn't reflect the common intention of the parties at the time of the treaty signing. The Crown promised to review the annuity payment depending on the value of the extracted resources.

"The Crown has failed to undertake that process to date."


The $550-billion compensation figure was arrived at by examining the amount of ore, aggregate and timber extracted from the boundary claim area since 1850 with compound interest applied.

"It's an historical approach on resources that were taken."

The second valuation is on what the ore bodies and other resources are worth today.

Detlor says recent comments from mineral executives during Sudbury's mining week conservatively assessed the value of activity in the Sudbury Basin to be worth $1 trillion.

There are no operating mines within Whitefish Lake's current boundaries but their larger traditional land within the Sudbury Basin contains several operations.

Detlor doesn't expect an immediate response from Ottawa and Queen's Park and says it could be months, if not years, before the claim reaches court.

Short of litigation, he's hopeful an agreement can be reached through the government's consultation and accommodation stream.

Federal Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Chuck Strahl is attempting to speed up the backlog of land claims by passing a bill, the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, this spring. The bill was endorsed by all parties in the House of Commons, May 13, and was co-written by the National Assembly of First Nations,

However, Detlor says the bill limits compensation to money only and caps it at $150 million.

Whitefish Lake wants the Robinson-Huron Treaty to be honoured and is looking for the return of all land owned by the Crown.

Detlor says there's no intention to displace any individuals, homeowners or businesses from their land. "The reserve is committed to respect individuals' quiet enjoyment and possession of their properties. The only party we're seeking to displace is where the province or federal government have land holdings."

Calls placed to officials at the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs and the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines were not available for comment at press time.


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:MINING
Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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