Sites of Aboriginal Cultural Significance

The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) has introduced regulated criteria to identify lands as sites of Aboriginal cultural significance for the purposes of protection under the Mining Act, including the withdrawal of such lands from prospecting, staking, sale and lease.  

Effective November 1, 2012

Lands that are 25 hectares in area or less may be considered a site of Aboriginal cultural significance for the purposes of the Mining Act if the following criteria are met:

  • They are strongly associated with an Aboriginal community for social, cultural, sacred or ceremonial reasons or because of its traditional use by that community according to Aboriginal traditions, observances, customs or beliefs.
  • They are in a fixed location, subject to clear geographic description or delineation on a map.
  • Their identification is supported by the community as evidenced by appropriate documentation, such as a Band Council Resolution or a Community Council Resolution or other such community support.
  • There are no other mechanisms available or appropriate to protect the site.

Examples of such sites include:

  • Burial grounds
  • Places of worship
  • A traditional teaching site
  • Ceremonials lands and pictographs

How to request a withdrawal of a site of Aboriginal cultural significance

  1. An Aboriginal community identifies a site (up to 25 hectares).
  2. The community contacts MNDM - Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Branch (Aboriginal Liaison Officer) and completes an Application for an Order Withdrawing a Site of Aboriginal Cultural Significance.
  3. The Aboriginal Liaison Officer will work with the community to ensure the application is complete.
  4. MNDM will review the application and documentation (including any oral histories, elder’s interviews, etc.) as well as evidence of community support such as a Band Council Resolution or a Community Council Resolution.
  5. If approved, MNDM will advise the Aboriginal community when the withdrawal order has been issued.
  6. The site will then be withdrawn and shown as withdrawn on claim maps.

Sites of Aboriginal Cultural Significance FAQ

How large can the withdrawal under this policy be?

The withdrawals for this regulation and policy are intended to be smaller sites that can be easily identified on a map.  Withdrawals will typically be done in 4, 9, 16 and 25 hectare increments.  The Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Branch will work with Aboriginal communities to determine the size of withdrawal most appropriate to address the nature of the site. 

Will sites require verification and evidence to support the withdrawal?

MNDM will order a withdrawal, as long as the site meets the criteria set out in the regulation and policy Sites of Aboriginal Cultural Significance – Withdrawals and Surface Rights Restrictions, supported by appropriate documentation (as described in the Policy)

What kinds of documentation might be provided to show the site meets the criteria as a site of Aboriginal cultural significance?

Supporting documents may include:

  • Testimonials (written or audio/video recorded) as to uses and significance to the community collected from elders, land users or other community knowledge  holders
  • Transcripts of oral history and stories pertaining to the area identified
  • Existing reports or land use studies that document the site
  • Documentation created for other processes (land claims, mapping projects, archaeological studies, etc.)
  • Historic references in secondary materials to the site and its uses and significance
  • Photographs of the site and particular features
  • Surveys, current or historic, of the site and its features
  • Other ministry or agency designations or protections afforded to the same site.

If a site of Aboriginal cultural significance does not extend below the surface (i.e. not burial, etc.) can activity occur if it only happens below ground?

No.  Withdrawal of a site of Aboriginal cultural significance means that no claim can be staked and no mineral exploration activity can occur there whether at the surface or below it.
However, some First Nations and project proponents have come to mutually acceptable agreements to protect spiritual sites while still allowing for mineral development activity to occur beneath the surface.

How will prospectors know whether an area has been withdrawn from staking?

MNDM’s online CLAIMaps application indicates areas that have been withdrawn from staking.

What if a burial site is discovered during exploration?

The Ontario Heritage Act and the Cemeteries Act  have established procedures for dealing with discoveries of archeological significance and the uncovering of human remains.

What if a community wishes to protect a site, but still allow for mineral development activity to occur below the surface?

There are examples of mine development in Ontario where a First Nation and the project proponent have worked together to appropriately protect a spiritual site, but mining still occurs sub-surface.

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