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Legal battle looms amid Cat Lake Nation, First Mining road dispute in Ontario

Cat Lake First Nation has launched legal action to halt construction of an 18-km access road crucial to First Mining Gold’s (TSX: FF; US-OTC: FFMGF) Springpole project in northern Ontario.

The lawsuit, filed last week in the Superior Court of Justice in Thunder Bay, conveys the community’s persistent opposition to mining on its traditional lands, as shown by a mining moratorium it declared in 2023.

The dispute hinges on the issuance of road construction permits by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on Feb. 9, which Cat Lake leaders describe as blatant disregard for their vehement opposition. Chief Russell Wesley said in a sharply worded news release last week that the community is concerned over potential adverse effects on wildlife habitats, fish populations, and sacred sites, including areas with pictographs and ancestral burial grounds.

“Once such a road is built — cutting down trees, harming local wildlife habitat used by moose,  caribou and wolverine, depleting fish stocks, damaging sacred Cat Lake cultural sites, and disturbing Cat Lake burial grounds — such actions, and their harms, cannot be undone,” Wesley said in the release.

The move comes as a mild winter wreaks havoc among remote First Nations communities, which depend on ice roads for resupply.

The First Nation states that the company and the government are proceeding without the community’s approval, underlining the need for time to evaluate the potential effects.

Wesley argues that the province prioritized the financial interests of the mining company above the safety and welfare of his community. “We demand equal treatment and consideration for the well-being of our people as we continue to work towards protecting our rights and land,” he said.

Located 180 km north of Sioux Lookout, Cat Lake First Nation is the closest community to the proposed Springpole site, one of Canada’s largest undeveloped gold projects. It hosts 151 million indicated tonnes grading 0.94 grams gold per tonne and 5 grams silver for 4.6 million oz. gold and 24.3 million oz. silver, and 16 million inferred tonnes at 0.54 grams gold and 2.8 grams silver for 300,000 oz. gold and 1.4 million oz. silver.

First Mining’s CEO, Dan Wilton, sought to strike a reconciliatory tone in a press statement Monday.

“While it is disappointing that CLFN has chosen to oppose these important, temporary safety activities, First Mining continues to listen to the concerns of Indigenous communities,” he said, adding, “This temporary winter road will allow First Mining to keep its focus on operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

First Mining, while pushing forward with the project and expecting to conclude its environmental assessment processes by 2025, maintains that it has engaged thoroughly with local Indigenous communities.

Wilton has expressed a “very high degree of confidence” in gaining the necessary environmental assessment approvals, attributing this optimism to pro-mining sentiments within the Ontario government and projected infrastructure improvements for remote communities like Cat Lake.

Earlier this month, in the wider Thunder Bay region, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) chiefs declared a state of emergency as unseasonably warm winter threatens the seasonal winter road network, a vital transportation link for most of the NAN’s 49-member First Nations.

“The winter road season should be well underway, but temperatures remain unseasonably warm, making them extremely dangerous and unsafe to use,” Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in a Feb. 9 statement.

First Mining Gold’s shares closed at C11¢ apiece on Monday, losing more than 40% in value over the past 12 months. It has traded between C10.5¢ and C19.3¢ over the past 12 months and has a market capitalization of C$100.9 million ($74.6m).

Source: MINING.COM – Read More