When citizens of the Wahgoshig First Nation spotted a drilling crew on their sacred burial site, they demanded to know what was going on.
The Wahgoshig, whose Algonquin reserve of 19,239 acres is near the Quebec border, say they were met with silence.
According to court records, the prospecting 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 from Solid Gold Resources Inc. that has a 200-square-kilometre prospect. The land they were on, says Wahgoshig band chief David Babin, is not part of the reserve but does include the traditional lands the Algonquins lived on for thousands of years.
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 allegedly responded by bringing in a second drilling rig.
Last month, Ontario Judge Carole Brown ordered Solid Gold to stop 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.
Judge Brown 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.”
Solid Gold is appealing her decision. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 29 at divisional court in Toronto.
Ontario’s Angus Toulouse, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, argues that the Constitution’s guarantee of aboriginal rights, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, require that aboriginal people have the right of free, prior and informed consent before any project that may affect their lands can proceed.
Solid Gold told the court it has “no legal responsibility or duty to consult, and that if there is such a duty, it resides in the Crown.”