Last year, the exploration industry spent close to a billion dollars looking for minerals in Ontario.

But some prospectors say the rules are not clear when it comes to staking claims — particularly on First Nation traditional territory.

That's resulting in conflict and court cases.

Mining companies or prospectors are granted exploration claims through the province.

But, traditional land surrounding First Nation territory is not marked on the province's mining map — because the province can't actually pin it down.

Clive Stephenson, a provincial mining recorder with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, said traditional territory is a relative term.

"I mean, the First Nations obviously have a good idea of what their traditional land is," he said. "But for various reasons, they're uncomfortable with sharing it."

Currently, when a claim is staked on traditional territory, both the miner and prospector are informed by the province that they might be operating on traditional lands.

Even though the province issues the permits, it's up to the mining company to contact each of the First Nations that might be affected for further consultation.

That happens only after the company has already paid the province to stake the claim.

Start dialogue early

The province's mining act is now being updated to address such relations between the exploration industry and First Nations.

Gary Clark, the executive director of the Ontario Prospectors Association, said changes in the mining act should address the issues — and make the government more involved in the deals.

"The government will be able to monitor to make sure consultation is going in the direction that they want it in," Clark said. "It's ultimately their responsibility to do consultation and accommodation."

But Stephenson said the relationship between mining companies and First Nations is a businesses arrangement, so it's best to leave consultation to them. He noted the province does have staff in place to assist them, if needed.

"The whole idea is to start dialogue as early as possible because there are benefits to both of [First Nations and those who stake claims] in this picture."