Mining in Ontario: Colonial Conquest of Indigenous people
By Aaron Mercredi
“We have said it before and we will say it again. No exploration means no exploration. Which part of NO doesn’t the Ontario government understand?”
— Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris
Six activists from the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation sit in Ontario prisons. Their crime? Defending their homeland and Oji-Cree community from a mining development. On March 17th, Chief Donny Morris, Deputy Chief Jack McKay, Head Councillor Cecilia Begg, and Councillors Samuel McKay and Darryl Sainnawap, now known as the KI 6, were all sentenced to six months in jail. They were charged with contempt of court for refusing to comply with an injunction allowing Platinex, a mining exploration company, to begin drilling in their traditional territory about 1,200 km north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
For many years, the people of KI have opposed resource corporations coming in to their territory, ruining their environment, trapping and hunting grounds, and violating their treaty rights. Despite this, Platinex has been determined to begin developing its project on and under their land.
In the winter of 2005-06, Platinex first tried to drill on KI land. In October 2005, KI, along with four other neighbouring First Nation communities declared a moratorium on mining exploration and logging on their territories. Platinex violated this moratorium with the justification of the Ontario Mining Act, which follows a free-entry system, an old Wild West-style law that allows anyone to stake a claim on Crown land. There are no clauses on how this works on Indigenous land. The violating the moratorium was not the only offence that Platinex committed. Platinex and the Province of Ontario undermined Treaty 9, which the KI signed in 1929, protecting their ability to hunt, fish and trap, and to prevent the encroachment of early miners and loggers on their homeland. The area of land threatened by the mining development is traditional KI land. In February 2006, the people of KI rose in response and blockaded a winter road that provided Platinex access to KI’s traditional lands.
In April 2006, Platinex stepped up its offensive on the people of KI by seeking an injunction against any further protests. Furthermore, Platinex decided to sue the community of KI for $10Billion in damages, the largest lawsuit by a company against a First Nation in Canada. Already, the community of KI has gone bankrupt after accruing over $500,000 in legal fees to resist Platinex’s action. Although Platinex reduced the $10Billion lawsuit to $10Million (how honourable of them!), it is still a terror tactic being used against an already impoverished remote Native community. Platinex knows very well who they are dealing with and what conditions the people of KI, and Indigenous communities across Canada, live under. To go ahead with this lawsuit, Platinex is essentially trying to bury the community.
In the fall of 2007, the Ontario court ruled that Platinex can legally drill for platinum deposits on traditional KI territory. The KI-6 were jailed because they continued to physically stop Platinex from beginning its operations. Not having the finances to fund another legal battle, the KI-6 were sentenced to 6 months in jail—a strong warning from the Province of Ontario to the rest of the community and other Indigenous people who face the same threats from resource companies.
Another story, the same plot
A month before the KI-6 were put in jail for defending their land, Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFN) spokesperson Robert Lovelace was sentenced to 6 months in prison, along with crippling fines, for trying to stop Frontenac Ventures from mining uranium on AAFN lands near Sharbot Lake, Ontario.
"He [Lovelace] is a political prisoner of the Government of Ontario and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation places blame for his incarceration on Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Michael Bryant. We have repeatedly asked for consultations on the mineral claims on our lands within the larger Algonquin homeland. We have offered Ontario a variety of options to enable consultation. Every option was rejected out of hand. Ontario's position has been consistent: Drilling on our land must occur. Our position has equally been consistent: Meaningful consultation must occur before any of our land is damaged or alienated to mining companies." - Chief Paula Sherman
The response from the people of KI, who have been devastated by the arrest and criminalization of the KI-6, has been swift and strong. They mobilized and on March 20th, the remaining Council members, with the support of a community assembly and the arrested council members, to send a strong united message to the Ontario government, mining companies, and other Indigenous people about this issue. They outlined 6 central points:
1. No Parliamentarian, be it a federal or provincial member, is allowed in the Homelands of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug;
2. No more free entry to Kitchenuhamaykoosib lands by Platinex or any other mining entity including First Nation mining companies;
3. Ongoing blockade will be more protected and secured in order to protect our KI Homelands;
4. Assembly of First Nations must abandon the partnership agreements with the mining industry in Canada;
5. All First Nation political territorial organizations in Ontario do not speak directly for or on behalf of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, but their support on the issue is welcome;
6. Ontario must respond to our proposal made with our brothers and sisters of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, to establish a joint panel on mining on First Nations lands.
These demands no doubt have an impact on the hostile environment in Ontario. Already, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and the First Nations Summit (FNS) have responded to this call by pressuring the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to tear up its MOU with mining companies in Canada. Letters of support and solidarity have been pouring in to KI from across the country from people who are shocked at how these Indigenous activists were treated.
Free the KI-6! Free Robert Lovelace! Self-determination for Indigenous nations!
Behind Platinex’s attempted land-grab and the Province of Ontario’s criminalization of Indigenous activists lies an ugly colonialism whose goal has remained the same for hundreds of years. A land grab today is not much different than when settlers first arrived on the shores of what is now called Canada. Although the brute force method has been mostly replaced (but not completely) with the more drawn-out process of laws and court processes, the aim is still to take the land and resources from Indigenous people. For Indigenous people in the North, this is becoming a larger problem as more and more resource companies, with politicians in tow, move in and try to develop exploration projects on their traditional territories with absolutely no interest in the well-being or rights of Indigenous people to their lands.
What are Platinex and all the other resource companies who want to get rich off Native land afraid of? What is the government of Ontario afraid of? The same thing that the country of Canada is afraid of: that Indigenous people will one day have control over their land, and not let it be stripped away for the profit of a corporation. This is why Canada voted against the rights of Indigenous people at the UN. This is why Ontario created a Caledonia. The people who rule this country are afraid that self-determination for Indigenous nations would decrease their profits. The community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and the Ardoch Algonquin are strong examples of people who are fighting back for what has been taken from them and all working, poor and oppressed people in Canada need to support their case.
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