By Tanya Talaga / Toronto Star
When members of Wahgoshig First Nation spotted a drilling crew on what they say is a sacred burial site, they demanded to know who the strangers were and what they were doing.
The Wahgoshig, whose Algonquin reserve of 19,239 acres is 113 km east of Timmins, running south from Lake Abitibi near the Quebec border, say they were met with silence.
But what was happening on the land was anything but silent, according to court records.
The prospecting work involves clearing 25 sq. metre pads, clearing forest, bulldozing access routes to the drilling sites and the transportation and storage of fuel and equipment.
The workers were with Solid Gold Resources Inc., a junior mining firm that has a 200-square-kilometre prospect at Lake Abitibi near the Porcupine Fault zone. The land they were on, says Wahgoshig band chief David Babin, is not part of the reserve itself but does include the traditional lands the Algonquins have lived on for thousands of years.
“Through history, Wahgoshig First Nation had developed homes around Lake Abitibi. When we died, we buried our people around the rivers and lakes — we didn’t have cemeteries,” Babin says.
Wahgoshig, a community of 250 people, protested to the Ontario government, which in turn told Solid Gold on Nov. 8, 2011, that before any more drilling occurs they must adequately consult with the band.
Solid Gold responded by bringing in a second drilling rig, court documents say.
Last month, Ontario Judge Carole Brown ordered Solid Gold to stop its activity on the site for 120 days. The injunction expires in May. Brown ordered Solid Gold and the government to use that time to properly consult and accommodate the concerns of Wahgoshig.
The ruling has implications for other resource projects on First Nations traditional land — including the $5.5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline, a high-stakes bid to ship Alberta tar sands oil to China via a new pipeline across B.C. to the coast.
Many B.C. aboriginal groups are lined up against that pipeline. Last Saturday, 600 people took to the streets in Prince Rupert to support Hartley Bay First Nation’s opposition to oil tankers coming in to their coastal community near Kitimat, the proposed destination of the pipeline.
Judge Brown ruled she is mindful of Wahgoshig’s position that refusing to enjoin Solid Gold from its drilling will “send a message that aboriginal and treaty rights, including the rights to consultation and accommodation, can be ignored by exploration companies, rendering the First Nations’ constitutionally recognized rights meaningless.”
“This would not be in the public interest. It is in the public interest to ensure the Constitution is honoured and respected,” she wrote.
Solid Gold is seeking leave to appeal the decision. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 29 at divisional court in Toronto.
Read more from the Toronto Star here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1129591–ontario-first-nation-wins-injunction-to-stop-gold-drilling