Last week’s revelation that Ontario’s government, under the Liberal government, had begun granting new mining permits using a map that was almost a decade old immediately drew outrage from local First Nations, who say that not only are they not consulted on the project, they say the map is inaccurate and even misleading.
“It is amazing how tactless and prejudiced the entire provincial government is, and the incompetence they display. We are not happy,” said Marcus Walker, the leader of the Serpent River First Nation, which is located in the Kettle and Moose river valley, which is about 100 kilometres west of Waterdown, Ontario.
Walker said the Kettle and Moose’s border road network is in keeping with the territory assigned to the First Nation in 1871 – the first treaty with the Ontario government and the second with the federal government, formally establishing the tribe as a country. According to the last treaty in 2016, all lands in the Kettle and Moose valley between “Ascending Branch” and “Falling Branch” (where the mines would be located) were the territory of the Serpent River First Nation.
“In the Treaty Number One that created the nation, there was no calculation of ownership. However, we know the numbers of kilometres or miles that the rivers run from each of the main road crossings,” Walker said. “That is hundreds, even thousands of kilometres. That is territory that we own and it has grown since.”
The Serpent River lands are divided into seven distinct territories: the Snake District (370 sq km); Beaver District (138 sq km); Rabbit District (143 sq km); Black River District (137 sq km); Sturgeon District (103 sq km); and Chain Line District (116 sq km).
The dam itself and tailings storage are still in the British Columbia province of British Columbia, but the mine property between “Ascending Branch” and “Falling Branch” lies within “Trickery and Bad Faith”, an Ontario mining red tape supervisory category that permits new operations using outdated maps and inadequate impact statements.
Some of the new mining permits were not approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources as of 1 July 2018, it was recently revealed.
“I can guarantee you they did not just drop a new map in the Ministry’s hands,” said Robert Stefano, one of the owners of the property. “The ministry has two camps: those who see the law as a balance between business and the environment and those who see the law as what the government wants it to be.”
Stefano said he first heard about the mine last August, and contacted his First Nation asking them if the MNR had approved permits for the project. Stefano said the answers to his questions were a “long, in-depth, disheartening discourse” in which he was told repeatedly that any project is above the MNR’s jurisdiction. Then he received a letter from the MNR, saying that the government had authorized new permits without specifying the dates or locations.
He brought the matter to the attention of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, but said they told him that they did not have “legal authority to investigate or determine any matters”, because it is within the MNR’s jurisdiction.
Jeremy Waters, head of the Provincial First Nations Environmental Association, who is a member of the Serpent River First Nation, said he has “lots of questions” and he is continuing to push the MNR to give him more information on the mining permits.
“This is not being done in good faith on the part of the government,” he said. “This is trickery and bad faith.”