by Justin Duncan, staff lawyer

On March 29, 2012, the Ontario government reached a deal with junior mining exploration company God’s Lake Resources (Read about it here). The government paid the company to surrender mining claims and leases in the heart of Big Trout Lake First Nation (Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug or “KI”) traditional lands. The surrender of these claims and leases puts an end to various land-use conflicts in the 23,000 square kilometers of Ontario’s Far North that is KI’s homeland.

Six KI leaders were found in contempt of court and sentenced to six months in prison in March 2008 for refusing to allow mining exploration in their homeland. All six were released after spending more than two months in prison when Ontario’s Court of Appeal chastised the Ontario government for its failure to properly consult with KI on mining proposals. The Court of Appeal overturned the Superior Court’s sentence. This eventually resulted in an overhaul of Ontario’s mining legislation, an ongoing process to which Ecojustice continues to provide input.

As I stated in a previous blog post, working with First Nations is the only way that governments can successfully engage in meaningful conservation and development. Unfortunately, governments across Canada have consistently ignored this reality when creating new protected areas and in permitting development such as mining and oil and gas development.

Ontario still has a lot of work to do with KI but this is a big step — one that leads in the right direction.

KI has shown great patience and determination and deserves congratulations. Ontario also deserves congratulations for withdrawing KI’s 23,000 square kilometres of land from mineral exploration, thereby creating the space for talks with KI.

We at Ecojustice have certainly been honoured to have played a small part in this process by helping KI and look forward to the impact this historic process will have in achieving conservation, certainty on the land, and recognition of the power of the KI people who have been ignored for far too long and who have their own land use vision.

We also hope this is not just a one off and that Ontario and other governments in Canada are learning from this process.