First Nations communities want “free, prior and informed consent,” says Bishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: Michael Hudson for General Synod Communications
The Anglican Church of Canada has joined forces with a First Nations community 600 km north of Thunder Bay, Ont. to challenge a stake made at Sherman Lake by God’s Lake Resources (GLR), a Toronto-based gold mining company.
The conflict erupted in October when a mining exploration camp was set up Sherman Lake without the knowledge or consent of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) community. The area also holds gravesites where locals, most of them Anglican, are buried.
On March 6, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald joined the KI at their Toronto protest rally. “What KI is interested in is free, prior and informed consent,” Bishop MacDonald told the Anglican Journal. “They would like to establish a framework with the government about what that means and how that would work out prior to exploration.”
In a statement, GLR says it is willing to have a “negotiated agreement” with the KI but that under the new Mining Act, claimholders are required to consult with First Nations, not seek permission.
In December, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop MacDonald sent a letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urging his government to abide by Article 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This document calls on states to “consult and cooperate in good faith” with indigenous peoples regarding projects that affect their lands and other resources.
“We respectfully ask that you stop the God’s Lake Resources mining exploration until a full consultation can take place,” said the letter. “…For us, this is a basic matter of indigenous rights and, now, religious freedom.”
The Anglican leaders also expressed concern that the issue involves “the possible misuse of a cemetery. ” The church is concerned that “these graves not be put to a position where they may be desecrated or disturbed in some way,” said Bishop MacDonald. “We’re talking about the religious sensibilities of the KI and also of the Anglican church.”
Bishop MacDonald said the church is hoping to have a conversation with the government regarding the gravesites, which have been there for five to seven decades.
On March 5, the provincial government announced that it was withdrawing 23,181 square kilometers of land near the vicinity of KI from prospecting and mining “to give clarity to the province’s mineral exploration industry and to avoid future disagreements over the land in question.” The withdrawn lands do not affect the GLR’s mining claim.
KI Chief Donny Morris told Wawatay News that the withdrawal took his community by surprise since land claim negotiations between First Nations people and the government are at a standstill. “I think they jumped ahead of us. It should be a historical event when you withdraw that much land,” Morris said. “There should have been meetings about it. Instead they are telling us what’s best for us.”
Bishop MacDonald urged the government to begin the conversation, saying, “We’re interested in a good solution for all parties concerned.”