The Chiefs of the Canadian province of Ontario this week issued a statement calling for a 365-day moratorium on the Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS), beginning January 24.
The move follows an exponential rise in the number of mining claims being staked over the past year on First Nations territories – some as high as 30% — the highest annual number of mining claims staked in Ontario over the last six years, according to the Chiefs of Ontario.
The Chiefs said the increase in claims led to an “insurmountable” administrative burden for First Nation communities responsible for reviewing and responding to the mining claims.
“In accordance with Resolution 23/30S, which was passed at the Fall Chiefs Assembly 2023, the Chiefs of Ontario are calling on the Government of Ontario to declare a territory-wide moratorium on the Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS) for 365 days,” Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare said in the statement.
“Mining claim-staking continues to grow at a pace that far outstrips the ability for First Nations to respond and directly impacts our inherent, treaty, and constitutionally protected rights.”
Hare said a 365-day moratorium will give First Nations communities the time required to assess the impacts of the MLAS, the effects of the mine claims currently being staked, and develop a process “whereby meaningful and fulsome engagement and consultation can be integrated into the MLAS processes.”
In 2022, the Anishinabek Nation were unsuccessful when they made a similar request. The Ministry of Mines declined, stating a moratorium on mining was not considered an appropriate way to resolve the concerns.
Under the current MLAS system, prospectors can stake a mining claim online, and are not required to engage or consult with First Nations – even if the area in which the claim is staked is within their territories.
As a result, Chiefs of Ontario said, the area of land that has been staked is automatically removed from Treaty and Crown land that First Nations may have otherwise had access to add to reserve land, convert into parks, or is land that is currently undergoing land settlements via claims negotiations.
This week, Wyloo Metals said it is looking ahead to development at its Eagle’s Nest project in Ontario’s Ring of Fire, seen as highly prospective for nickel, copper, platinum and palladium, despite resistance to the project voiced by Indigenous leaders.
In April 2023, British Columbia’s Gitxaała Nation launched a legal challenge against the provincial government’s “free entry” mineral claim staking regime.
BC’s current Mineral Tenure Act also permits anyone with a free miner certificate to acquire mineral claims online through an automated system in First Nations’ territories, without their consultation or consent.
While critics challenge the system, the industry argues it violates prospectors’ intellectual property by giving notice that it expects to find mineralization in a given area before any security of tenure is granted.
A September 2023 Supreme Court decision declared that B.C.’s current online mineral claim system breaches the Crown’s duty to consult.
The court gave the province 18 months to design a new system that incorporates consultation — which the Chiefs of Ontario said sets an important precedent for First Nations in other provinces.