With 127 Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) recognized First Nations in Ontario, it is almost certain that the need to consult and accommodate will be an important topic to most mining developments or acquisitions. The goal of this month’s column is twofold — I want to share some information and tools that could be useful when you are looking at your property, and I want to emphasize some of the resources that are available to First Nations communities to help them find out who’s digging in their back yard.
Keep in mind that there could also be some level of Metis interest in your territory, even though I have only seen strong Metis involvement in the Manitoba region. In most cases in Ontario, industry deals with First Nations, since it is these communities that have land treaties.
Companies with property in Ontario need to quickly identify whether or not there are any Aboriginal interests in the territory. Do not rely on the provincial government to determine these interests and initiate discussions, because history shows us that process happens very slowly. If you have property and are serious about its development, then you should be equally interested in communicating openly with the surrounding communities.
In some cases, the land in question might be shared by more than one community, and you might at times have to deal with two or three First Nations, all of whom hold portions as their own traditional territory. It is important not to take sides by choosing to deal with one community over another. There are indeed cases in which companies are still trying to mend fences years later because they neglected to engage one of the communities in their discussions. Often there is no easy way to identify which community you should be talking to. Nevertheless, it is still critical to at least attempt to bridge this gap.
A useful tool for companies to help identify First Nations communities in Ontario can be found at http://communities.knet.ca. This website allows you to determine which communities are near your property and to obtain relevant contact information. It might be a good idea after you have identified these communities to arrange a visit with the Chief. From my experience, most Chiefs appreciate this and see it as a welcoming opportunity.
For exploration or mining to take place, a company (or individual) must file a formal “claim” with the provincial government. To aid First Nations communities to keep track of the activity going on in their territory, the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry has created a map that tracks claims. Although not as user-friendly as Google maps, it does offer a tutorial for new users and has the capability to show any claim in your region. The ministry also tries to provide quarterly claim maps to all First Nation communities with mineral sector activity in their area.
The Cree region of Quebec has mapped out its territory using their traditional system of trap lines. If you want to carry out development in their territory, they have a website that not only indicates which communities you need to talk to, but also the owner of the trap lines and their contact information. This site should probably serve as a model for how other grand councils should map out their territory.
In a perfect world, all the treaty land entitlement claims would be resolved, and carrying out exploration activities in partnership with First Nations communities throughout Canada would be as easy as it is to work in the Cree region of Quebec. In the meantime, using the above information and resources will get you started on the path to a successful partnership.
Juan Carlos Reyes is an Aboriginal consultant with efficiency.ca
and the executive director of Learning Together
. He is passionate about human rights and works tirelessly to help improve the lives of Canadian Aboriginal people.