Mining at Grassy Narrows

December 20, 2021
Gord Miller, Earthroots Board of Directors, Chair

Grassy Narrows First Nation continues to struggle to defend its constitutional right to full and informed consultation before the government makes decisions about undertakings on their traditional lands. They have had to seek resolution by going to Court, again. The latest conflict has arisen because the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF) has issued mining “exploration permits” on their lands allegedly without the necessary consultation.

Mining "exploration” may sound benign because it is a preliminary stage where prospectors are just looking for commercial mineral deposits. No mine is constructed. But that doesn’t mean that there is no damage to the environment or the living natural resources. During exploration swaths of forests are cut down, the surface soil is often excavated or washed away and there may be channels blasted into the bedrock to expose mineralization. There is always diamond drilling which involves volumes of muddy water and there is considerable handling of fuels, hydraulic oils and lubricants. Imagine if this occurs on or near a traditional trapline.

There are, of course rules, guidelines and some regulations set for these permits to mitigate these impacts but these activities occur in remote locations and there are usually no government inspectors checking. Grassy Narrows First Nation is wise to be concerned.

But mining exploration isn’t the only recent government activity impacting the traditional lands of the Grassy Narrows First Nation. That area of the boreal forest is managed for industrial forestry under the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan (FMP). Earthroots has many years of extensive participation in forest management planning. FMPs are elaborate documents that are developed over a long planning period and once approved they determine all aspects of forestry activity including road construction, bridges, cutting blocks and protected areas. They are designed to protect indigenous, cultural and ecological values on the landscape and they should consider the long - term health of the forest in the light of disruptors like climate change. The Whiskey Jack FMP was approved for 2012 - 2022. So it should be in the full throws of the planning process now because the current FMP runs out soon. But that is not the state of affairs of forest management planning in Ontario at this time. Instead NDMNRF is proposing a last minute extension of the existing FMP for 2 more years until 2024. So the status quo will continue.

This year was a record year for forest fires in many areas of the world and certainly in this part of the province. Climate change and carbon management does not form part of the FMP process. Hopefully, such matters will form part of the new planning process which we expect to see starting very soon. Certainly Earthroots will be part of that process and we hope that the FMP will be structured to sustain the Whiskey Jack forest through the climate disruption that is approaching.

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