THUNDER BAY – Members of Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek – Gull Bay First Nation have set up a blockade on the road leading to the Lac Des Iles Mine, with the community’s chief declaring it will be in place either until there is a negotiated deal or “hell freezes over.”
The turnoff to the mine off Highway 527 was barricaded with a camp set up for members on Thursday, and Gull Bay chief Wilfred King said the community will continue to exercise its inherent rights to its traditional territory until the mine complies with a list of demands.
“This mine operates right in the core of our territory,” King said. “We’re here to show the mine and also all parties that this operation impacts Gull Bay. We’re here to assert and claim our rights to the territory.”
The North American Palladium owned mine, north of Thunder Bay, has been in operation for 25 years.
“There’s been very little benefits realized by our community as a result of this operation. We’ve had some deals in the past and we felt there was still no respect for our community,” King said.
“We had tried to work with middle management at the facility and they don’t seem to want to recognize Gull Bay’s concerns, whether they be environmental, whether they be working in conjunction with our business partners as well.”
Tailings from the mine were discharged into the watershed in June 2015 after a tailings pond sinkhole caved in, raising environmental concerns from Gull Bay. Subsequent water testing found the controlled release was contained and there was no damage to the aquatic environment.
King said there was recently another controlled release and the community wasn’t notified until hours later.
“This has gone on long enough. I see various communities striking deals with various mines and they have a very, very good relationship,” King said.
“I think it’s unfortunate we have to take measures to this level. We’ve always tried to negotiate in good faith and tried to work with the mine in good faith. We feel they’ve just completely rejected our concerns at times.”
The company had a strong start to the year, mining more than one million tonnes during the first quarter of 2018 and generating net income of $5.6 million.
“We want a deal that’s going to be enforceable. We want a deal that’s based on respect,” King said. “A deal that really recognizes Gull Bay has to benefit from any future development at this mine. This mine has made record profits recently and they have to come to the table to negotiate in good faith. We want a meaningful agreement.”
The demonstration is restricting vehicles on either side of the blockade from passing through. King said exceptions would be made for emergency service vehicles. A mine rescue vehicle with personnel was permitted to pass through from the mine to reach the highway late Thursday afternoon.
OPP in a statement said police are working with the protest organizers to provide a safe and peaceful opportunity to exercise their lawful rights and to ensure public safety and order.