THUNDER BAY – Issues with mining in Northwestern Ontario and the Ring of Fire have been ongoing for the past weeks. However it is not just Ontario where First Nations, provincial governments, and mining companies are seemingly having difficulty. This week, the Chiefs of Eagle Village and Wolf Lake issued an ultimatum to ensure that mineral developments proposed by Matamec Resources will not occur without their consent and without consultation and accommodation of their Aboriginal rights. In addition to communicating their concerns to Matamec, the two Algonquin nations took their concerns to Toyota Tsusho America Corp. Toyota is negotiating a joint venture with Matamec for the development of a proposed rare earth elements mining project, known as the Zeus Project (Kipawa Deposit).
The project is in the unceded shared territory of Wolf Lake and Eagle Village. There is currently no agreed upon process for the province of Quebec or a mining company to meet their obligations to achieve the consent, consultation and accommodation of Algonquin Peoples about potential impacts of mining on their rights and title.
In a letter to Matamec and Toyota the Chiefs wrote: “if an agreement between Matamec Explorations Inc. and our Algonquin First Nation Governments is not finalized by July 6, 2012, we will be calling for the immediate suspension of all exploration and related mining activities at the site of the proposed Zeus Project (Kipawa Deposit) which will be enforced by our First Nations communities.”
The two Algonquin First Nations are concerned about the potential for damaging social, cultural and environmental impacts from mining and processing of rare earth elements. The only other North American rare earth elements mine they are aware of is at the Mountain Pass site in California where there have been numerous environmental problems. Rare earth element mines and processing sites have also created significant negative impacts in other parts of the world.
The two Algonquin First Nation governments want to have an accurate understanding of the social, cultural and environmental impacts of building and operating the proposed Zeus mine, including the associated processing and other facilities before they even consider giving consent to the development of a mine.
Negotiations on an Exploration Memorandum of Understanding had begun between the two Algonquin First Nation Governments and Matamec Explorations Inc., but since their last meeting in April, Matamec has failed agree to a final version of the MOU for signing.
Meanwhile Matamec has been drilling at the site, developing a pilot plant for processing the minerals and negotiating a Joint Venture Agreement with Toyota Tsusho America Corp. without keeping the Algonquin Chiefs informed of their activities.
Wolf Lake Chief St. Denis stated, “As member communities of the Algonquin Nation our collective Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are constitutionally protected and as Indigenous Peoples the Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples apply to our Algonquin First Nations, including the Right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent to any developments on our traditional territories (Art. 28 UNDRIP). This also applies to mining activities.”
Eagle Village Chief Madeleine Paul added, “Two weeks ago the Quebec Chiefs Assembly adopted a Resolution of Support for our position requiring Quebec and mining companies to obtain our Free, Prior, Informed Consent before any mining exploration and development activities occurs on our traditional lands. The Quebec Chiefs also supported our call to amend Bill 14 on Quebec’s Mining Act to include the requirement to consult First Nations at the mining exploration phase not just when a mine is developed.”