FEATURE-Canada aboriginal movement poses new threat to miners

Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:59pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon and Allison Martell

TORONTO, March 17 (Reuters) - An aboriginal protest movement that's often compared with Occupy Wall Street has the potential to disrupt mining projects across Canada, threatening to undermine the country's coveted reputation for low-risk resource development.

Idle No More, a grass-roots movement with little centralized leadership, swept across Canada late last year with the help social media. Protesters blocked roads and rail lines, and staged big rallies in the country's largest cities to press a sweeping human rights and economic development agenda.

Mining companies are also in the movement's sights as aboriginal bands seek to renegotiate old agreements and seize more control over mining developments, whether they are on lands designated as native reserves or not.

"We've existed in this territory for millennia. We don't have a land claim - it's beyond that, actually. Our rights exist throughout all of our territories," Arlen Dumas, chief of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, said about the northern Manitoba land where HudBay Minerals Inc, a Toronto-based mid-tier miner, is building its Lalor project.

Protesters cut off access to the gold-copper-zinc mine for several hours in early March, demanding talks with the company on an ownership stake in the C$794 million ($773.84 million)project, which has started limited production.

HudBay, which has mined in northern Manitoba for nearly 85 years, made it clear it prefers not to negotiate directly with the community, which is about 125 km (78 miles) away from Lalor and is one of many First Nations bands in the region.

Instead, the company is participating in an inter-governmental mining committee, which deals with such things as how benefits are split among parties.

"We're kind of in the crossfire of that," said HudBay Chief Executive David Garofalo. "At the end of the day it's important that those governments talk to each other and establish a revenue-sharing model that sustains both governments - both the Canadian governments and the First Nation governments."   Continued...