Four First Nations in northern Ontario are calling on the province to address their concerns about mining exploration companies intruding on their lands.
Grassy Narrows, Wapekeka, Neskantaga and Big Trout Lake First Nations say they’ve formed an alliance to defend their lands and waters after mining prospectors staked thousands of new claims on their territories over the last few years.
Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows said he wants the provincial government to seek his community’s informed consent before allowing companies to explore the First Nation’s lands for precious minerals.
Turtle said the current mining system in the province allows companies and individuals to stake mining claims on First Nations lands without the consent of Indigenous people who live there.
“We just don’t want any companies extracting our resources without our consent,” Turtle said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We don’t want mining in our area. That’s been made very clear with our position.”
Grassy Narrows First Nation, located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont., said it has seen about 4,000 mining claims on its lands since 2018.
The four First Nations that have come together on the issue said they want to meet with Premier Doug Ford to discuss their concerns.
The Ontario government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Turtle said members of Grassy Narrows have been working to prevent all logging on their lands because the community has suffered from mercury poisoning for decades.
The residents of Grassy Narrows have grappled with long-standing mental and physical health issues after a paper mill dumped tonnes of toxic mercury in the nearby English-Wabigoon River in the 1960s.
“When you cut trees and when it rains and gravel pours into the river, it gives out more mercury into the river systems,” Turtle said.
“We were poisoned before and we don’t want any more poisoning to take place in our territory and especially close to the community.”
The federal government passed a law in 2021 to affirm the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an international human rights instrument that can help interpret and apply Canadian law.
The declaration spells out the need for free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples on anything that infringes on their lands or rights.