Ontario First Nation takes Zenyatta to court over exploration

Date of publication: 
29 April 2011

HALIFAX – Land use negotiations in Ontario between Zenyatta Ventures and the Constance Lake First Nation soured this week, leading lawyers representing the First Nation to file for a court injunction against the junior explorer and its exploration activities.

At the end of February Zenyatta, which is a relatively new company on the TSX Venture Exchange, started a 20,000-metre drill campaign on its flagship Albany project in Constance Lake traditional territory, about 100 kilometres northwest of Hearst, Ontario. But, in an interview with Mineweb, Constance Lake Chief Arthur Moore alleges Zenyatta lawyers have displayed uncooperative attitudes – he called the lawyers “not too impressive” – and that Zenyatta failed to provide feedback on recent negotiations aimed at inking an exploration agreement.

“The reason why we have the injunction is we haven’t finished the negotiation process,” Moore said. “So we want to stop them until that is done.”

Moore said the Constance Lake First Nation postponed court action in Ontario’s Supreme Court last week and went back to the table with Zenyatta to work out details of an agreement that would cover conditions such as procurement contracts, local hiring, and sensitivity to trapping, burial grounds, sacred areas and other traditional activities.

“We thought it went well,” Moore said, “but they were supposed to come back with feedback on the agreement (this week) but they didn’t.”

Moore stressed that the Constance Lake First Nation is not opposed to mineral exploration, or industrial development, noting that the First Nation operates a sawmill, among other businesses.

However, Moore said he wanted the court action against Zenyatta to send “a strong message to other exploration companies” to pay more attention to their relationships with First Nations when operating in their traditional territories.

“I’m hoping this court case will set certain precedents,” Moore also said, referring to exploration companies’ right to free entry on mineral concessions in Ontario, which he opposes.

As of presstime Zenyatta president and CEO Aubrey Eveleigh had not returned a call requesting comment. In a press release Zenyatta stated it would vigorously defend its interests, “but remains committed to ongoing dialogue with the Crown and CLFN (Constance Lake First Nation) respecting the community’s concerns.”

Zenyatta also said it recognized aboriginal treaty “and the importance of the traditional lands to the First Nation people. We also realize that mineral exploration must contribute to the benefit of all stakeholders involved.”

The case is being heard today, April 29, 2011, in the Ontario Supreme Court.

Zenyatta has the right to earn an 80 percent interest on the Albany property from Cliffs Natural Resources Exploration Canada by conducting a $10 million exploration program over 10 years. The project area is 300,000 acres in size and Zenyatta says on its website it “will be targeting a Norilsk, Voisey’s Bay or Eagle type Cu-Ni deposit with a value in excess of $1 Billion at the Albany project.”