The chief of a northern Ontario First Nation says he was offended and troubled earlier this month by a notice that a mining company was set to begin drilling on the community's traditional lands.
Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias responded to the the notice from Noront Resources with a letter telling the company it must "cease and desist" because it does not have consent from the First Nation to drill.
The drilling program is planned to begin by the end of August in an area known as the Ring of Fire in Ontario's James Bay Lowlands.
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"It's offensive on our end to receive a notice that's basically telling us 'by the way we're going to be drilling,'" Moonias said. "They haven't asked us for our consent, they haven't engaged with us in a way we expect, so it is very troubling."
Noront is "reaching out" to Neskantaga, according to president Al Coutts, but there is no plan to delay the drilling.
Geophysical work done earlier this year revealed "interesting responses," Coutts said and the company wants to conduct diamond drilling to confirm what could be a promising nickel-copper-platinum discovery.
"Not all of the [First Nations] communities [in the area] are aligned and see eye-to-eye on things," Coutts said. "What we've done is work closely with Marten Falls and Webequie and we recently had a group of elders from both of those communities visit the site and get comfortable with what we're doing."
As well Coutts said Noront is committed to hiring First Nations people for its line-cutting and drilling crews.
"You try to make the best efforts you can to communicate your activities and be clear about what you plan and live up to some of the commitments," Coutts said.
That doesn't go far enough for Moonias, who said that Neskantaga has an engagement protocol and development process that Noront is ignoring.
"We need to get our First Nations involved in ways that they are informed decision makers," he said. "This has not occurred with this particular company."
The chief also questions why government is ignoring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by granting mining permits without the consent of affected First Nations.
"The fact that the company can just go into an area where they don't have the consent or the involvement of First Nations — it is unacceptable for the government to be issuing these permits," Moonias said.
Neskantaga is located on the Attawapiskat River, west of the drill site, as well as a mine proposed for the area and Moonias said the community is determined to protect the environment and stand up for its treaty rights.