Constance Lake First Nation – The Constance Lake First (CLFN) has filed a motion in the Ontario Superior Court to seek an order that would stop Zenyatta from further mineral exploration drilling in a critically important area within CLFN’s traditional territory. This motion will be heard by the Court on Friday April 29 in Toronto.
CLFN will also hold a demonstration on Monday May 2 (and perhaps beyond), under CLFN’s traditional law, to emphasize its commitment to protect CLFN’s aboriginal and treaty rights. This demonstration will be held where the Pagwachuan River crosses Highway 11, approximately 80 km west of Calstock (120 km west of Hearst). There is a sign marking the Paguachuan River as a bridge crosses over it on Highway 11. This location is near the Zenyatta southern exploration base camp. CLFN asks any supporters to attend and to respect the fact that this is CLFN’s demonstration. The OPP has been contacted about this.
Zenyatta has staked mining claims (the “Albany Claims”) over 300,000 acres north-west of Hearst, Ontario.
Much of the Albany Claims overlap an area known to CLFN as the “Heartland” because of its significant historic and current value to the First Nation. There is very high use of this area by CLFN members for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering plants for medicine and food, and many other traditional cultural uses. Sacred sites, including burial sites, are in this area.
“This land is at the core of our cultural and spiritual being as a people,” says Chief Arthur Moore. “We are deeply concerned that drilling and other exploration activity will cause irreparable harm to our cultural sites, our rights, and our relationship to the land.”
The First Nation has been trying to negotiate an agreement with Zenyatta and some accommodation from the Ontario Government, which would have included measures to identify and protect such sites and to mitigate impacts to the exercise of aboriginal and treaty rights, when it found out that Zenyatta had unilaterally gone onto the land to begin its exploration program.
“We cannot allow our rights – including to meaningful consultation and accommodation – to be unilaterally steamrolled,” says the Chief. “We therefore are forced to bring this legal action and to assert our rightful place in this world through our planned demonstration. But we are more than open to negotiating fair accommodation measures if Zenyatta and the Crown would do the honourable thing and cease the drilling in the mean time. So far they have refused to do this.”
One big obstacle here is Ontario and the Mining Act. While the Mining Act has been amended, the amendments that would most affect First Nations are not yet in force. Even had they been, there is still no requirement in the new Act to consult First Nations before claims are staked, and there is no requirement for substantive accommodation to be reached before exploration begins.
Cliffs (a big mining company headquartered in Cleveland Ohio with a lot of interest in the Ring of Fire), through one of its affiliates, owns a 75% interest in the Albany claims that Zenyatta intends to explore, and can take over this project if certain conditions are met. CLFN met with certain executives from Cliffs a few weeks ago and made them aware of the serious issues, and asked Cliffs to try to persuade Zenyatta to do the right thing. Cliffs has not come through with any assistance to CLFN.
“All mining and mineral exploration companies need to know that while Constance Lake First Nation does not oppose this kind of activity in our traditional territory, such activity can only happen if it is done right. This means our rights and the land and our relationship to the land need to be fully respected,” says the Chief.