First Nations, company ink historic deal

Peggy Revell

It was a landmark moment for gold exploration in Rainy River District as the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat, Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation, and Osisko Hammond Reef Gold Ltd. signed a resource-sharing agreement at a ceremony here Friday morning.
The signing is a “historic” moment for the project, Osisko, and all people involved in the region, Osisko president and CEO Sean Roosen said during the ceremony held at La Place Rendez-Vous.
“First Nations people have always known that managing the land and managing the resources was a responsibility,” he noted.
“We at Osisko take that responsibility very seriously, as well,” Roosen stressed about the company’s duty to mine in a responsible and respectful manner, with the benefits and profits from mining activities shared throughout the involved communities.
Friday’s signing follows in the footsteps of a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed earlier this year with Brett Resources—the company which had been overseeing the project until a friendly takeover by Osisko Mining Corp. of the Hammond Reef advanced gold project near Atikokan.
Looking forward, Roosen said Osisko’s mandate is to move the project to a “feasibility decision,” where they can build a mine and provide long-term jobs and long-term benefits to the communities they are in.
“I believe that together we’ve negotiated an agreement which is mutually-beneficial to both parties,” said Tony Marinaro, economic development advisor with Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services.
“An agreement that allows the sharing of ideas, placing mutual respect at the forefront of all issues.
“And through this process, we have seen a brief look into the future not only for the aboriginal people in the Rainy River District, but for all residents who will mutually benefit from the ongoing development of the Hammond Reef gold project,” Marinaro added.
“It’s only because of the hard work, patience, and vision of the assembled leadership from both sides that we’re able to work together respecting the goals and visions of all the parties involved,” he stressed.
Marinaro said the agreement contains specific details of the relationship as the Hammond Reef project moves along through its developmental stages to a fully operational gold mine.
This includes environment rehabilitation, First Nation participation, committee structure on such things as environmental training, employment, economic development, social, and cultural, as well as employment, contract and business opportunities, and training and education.
“And again, there’s also a dispute resolution that’s in place because we are human,” Marinaro added.
While the agreement was signed by the representatives present for Friday’s ceremony, it still must be cemented in the upcoming months as the chiefs take it back to each of their respective communities to discuss, review, and ratify.
“This agreement is what I would view as a part of an Impact Benefit Agreement,” said Seine River First Nation Chief Earl Klyne.
“In particular, that the resources of our area, the land, has to be returned to its original state as best as possible and to be monitored afterward,” he stressed.
“That must be a process that is also achieved and signed on.”
The agreement also shows the ability of local First Nations to work together in a way to help industries and help themselves, and to create employment and training for children and future generations, Chief Klyne added, something that is “long overdue.”
“In [the] Treaty #3 area, we operate under what is known as our resource law,” Chief Klyne noted. “That law must be respected by the companies fully.
“They can’t be partially respected.
“Having said that, it’s all about being trusting with each other,” he added. “If there’s no trust involved with the relationship, it’s not going to work.
“And as you can see, we’re moving along, so there is trust here.”
Although not a member of the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat, Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation also was a signatory to the agreement.
“I believe that this resource benefit sharing agreement is a good one, is a fair one, it’s a respectable one, and it’s something that I think that our grandfathers and mothers that are here listening today are pleased,” said Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation Chief White Cloud Judy Maunula.
“And I hope that our children, when they look back on this day, say it was a good day.
“I think it is a fair and good document, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today to sign it,” Chief Maunula added.
“I believe that the company that we’re dealing with, Osisko, is a respectful and a reputable organization, otherwise I would not be here today to sign.
“We do feel very strongly that we are the caretakers and protectors of Mother Earth, and the resources that the Creator has put here for our use and our benefit, we take that responsibility very seriously,” she stressed.
Speaking afterwards with the Times concerning the Hammond Reef gold project’s timeline, Roosen noted Osisko is looking to finish the drill program by the third quarter of 2011 and from there move into the pre-feasibility and feasibility study, with permitting running alongside this.
If things go positively, site preparation could begin in 2010 and construction in 2013, with the mine up and running by 2015-16.
While she hasn’t seen the exact terms of the agreement, Treaty #3 Ogichidaawke Diane Kelly said in her statement at the ceremony that it sounds “very promising,” referring to the principles surrounding Treaty #3’s resource law when it comes to resource sharing and development.
“I think it’s really important that we talked about the sustainability of the land, the future for
tomorrow,” she noted.
“We’re at the exciting time in some way here in Treaty #3 territory because there’s a gold rush and there’s so many opportunities for our communities to benefit in the resources that we have.
“But it’s also a time to be very cautious because when we think of all the number of companies that want to come into the territories and enter partnerships and extract resources, we could be here for a time where we have too much extraction,” Ogichidaawke Kelly warned.
“We don’t want to have a time where we have our land not be sustainable for the future,” she stressed.
She also said the relationship that has developed through Brett Resources, and then Osisko, with the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat and Lac De Mille Lacs First Nation is one that “should be representative probably as best practice for other industry that’s looking to do business in the Treaty #3 territory.”
Also speaking here Friday was Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown, who called it an “exciting day” for First Nations, Osisko, and all the area municipalities.
Mayor Brown also spoke on behalf on Northern Development, Mines and Forest minister Michael Gravelle, who could not be present, offering his congratulations and statements.
“Today is truly a special and a historic day,” stated Mayor Brown, commending both groups for “moving forward in an atmosphere of mutual respect, dialogue, and involvement with each other.”
The signing is another step on the journey towards improving the economic conditions of the area, added Mayor Brown, also thanking Chief Klyne and the Seine River Band for the funding they provided to help build the road to the Hammond Reef mine site.