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Northern First Nation orders stop to mineral exploration in its territory

Chief Allan Gustafson says Ontario has taken a 'minimal' approach to its duty to consult and accommodate

WHITESAND FIRST NATION  Another Northwestern Ontario First Nation is taking issue with the provincial government's approach to mining.

The chief of Whitesand First Nation has told the government "a halt is now in place" for further mineral exploration in the community's traditional territory until further notice.

Chief Allan Gustafson made the declaration in a letter to Mines Minister George Pirie, Northern Development & Indigenous Affairs Ministers Greg Rickford, and Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini.

The letter cites encroachment into Whitesand's homeland by mining companies "via Ontario's minimal approach" to its duty to consult and accommodate First Nations.

The community has an on-reserve population of about 300 and is located 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, near Armstrong.

Its leaders have identified seven companies, among others, that are currently conducting mineral exploration in the area.

Whitesand First Nation said the work that's proceeding at various stages is taking place without proper engagement with the community at the same time as the government is moving ahead with Bill 71 —  the Building More Mines Act — which it said will only further complicate the issue.

The legislation is intended to expedite the development of mines.

“It shouldn’t take 15 years to open a mine,” Minister of Mines George Pirie has stated. “[The current] process is too-time consuming and costly, leading to project delays and lost opportunities for Ontario’s mineral exploration and mining sector."

In a statement Wednesday, Gustafson alleged the province is "targeting" the Treaty lands and resources of First Nations.

"Mining is proceeding at an advanced pace, without ensuring the concerns, participation and inclusion of First Nations are part of a meaningful partnership or strategy."

He said Whitesand has been prepared to be a partner in development and ensure the prosperity of community members and future generations, but that its message to Premier Doug Ford is that the First Nation and its homeland "will not be exploited."

None of the three ministers to whom the letter was addressed have provided a public response so far.