Ont. powerless to stop mining claims on disputed land: minister

The province can't stop mining companies from staking claims to Crown land while the Liberals go through the slow process of overhauling the 100-year-old Mining Act, the government said Thursday.

Ontario can't stop mining companies from staking claims to Crown land while the Liberals go through the slow process of overhauling the 100-year-old mining act, the government said Thursday.

This came amid calls for an immediate moratorium on industrial activity on traditional First Nations territory.

Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle said the Liberals are committed to changing the mining act to include proper consultation with First Nations, but added it's not a quick process.

The province is still talking to First Nations about how they would like to be consulted on changes to the law — let alone discussing what amendments should be made, he said.

In the meantime, Gravelle said there isn't much the government can do to stop mining companies from continuing their explorations in the north.

"Companies and individual prospectors have the right to go on Crown land and stake a claim and there is a tremendous amount of excitement about that. In terms of the law itself, we're not in a position to change that," Gravelle said in an interview from Thunder Bay, Ont.

"We want to be able to move forward, as I know many First Nation communities do as well, with these exciting economic opportunities ... We need to find that balance — how do we satisfy the concerns of the First Nations and, at the same time, allow the opportunities to continue to move forward?"

His comments come as Ontario's chiefs call on the government to immediately stop allowing mining companies to explore in traditional aboriginal territory without the consent of First Nations until the law is changed or face widespread unrest across the north.

Consultation, revenue should be priority: chief

Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, with the Assembly of First Nations, said overhauling the mining act to include consultation and revenue sharing with aboriginal people should be the government's top priority if they want to exploit the natural resources of the north.

"This is a top priority because we're going to see conflict all over the north," Toulouse said in an interview. "To believe that jailing our people is going to make us go away and go and hide — no. They're going to protect their land and they're insisting on protecting their way of life."

Six members of the remote Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation were jailed last December after ignoring an injunction allowing Platinex to start drilling on traditional aboriginal territory 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Despite rallies of support for the jailed leaders and strong criticism, the Liberals gave Platinex more than 29,000 hectares of new land earlier this week.

Some communities welcome the jobs, roads and revenue that come from industrial development which is done in consultation with First Nations, Toulouse said. But he said others — like the KI First Nation — aren't interested.

"They're saying they do not want any development. Period," he said. "When the fish runs out and when their livelihood is no longer there, maybe they'll talk about it."