Cries of opposition to developing the ‘Ring of Fire’ rained down on provincial politicians in Toronto on Wednesday.
They came from five First Nations in northern Ontario.
“No Ring of Fire,” shouts Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias in a video posted to Twitter.
The visitor’s gallery then erupted with applause as MPPs went about their business below.
“No Ring of Fire without our consent,” shouted another leader. “Our people’s lives are important.”
Premier Doug Ford is seen sitting and staring straight ahead.
While Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford sits with his back to the chiefs.
Two of the leaders were removed by Queen’s Park security guards after NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa addressed the legislature.
“This government says it wants prosperity for all Ontarians, but let me be clear, these five First Nations who travelled thousands of kilometers to be here are the ones that have to live with the mess that is left behind after mining,” said Mamakwa who is the Indigenous affairs critic.
“Their grandchildren will have to drink the water downstream from these mines.”
The Ring of Fire is a massive, mineral-rich swath of land in northern Ontario that is worth billions to the province. It will source some of the green economies for years to come – but there’s a catch.
It’s also the world’s second-largest peatland ecosystem – a natural sponge that absorbs tonnes of carbon linked to the climate crisis and holds it. Climate scientists worry that disturbing it by either digging it up or causing it to dry out, could be a disaster.
Some First Nations in northern Ontario, want no part of it.
“Will this government promise today to gain their agreement rather than bulldozing over their lands and waters better yet well today the premier meet with these leaders today?” Mamakwa asked.
Rickford said an agreement was reached on March 3 with Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations to build an all-season road to the area.
Webequie also signed a deal with a resource company to start negotiating mineral rights.
“We are a community that believes in self-determination and pursuing collaborative alliances with the right government and business partners,” Chief Cornelius Wabasse said in a March 1, 2021 release.
“This MoU brings us one step closer to securing new employment, training, business prospects and ongoing consultations as mining develops in our traditional territory.”
For the government, having a willing partner to start development is the key to start mining in the area.
“I can tell you they all want better infrastructure. They all, for the most part, want road access to improve the health, social and economic opportunities for their communities, that’s what a provincial government does,” Rickford told the House.
“We create the platforms for these kinds of resource activities to advance responsibly and safely at the same time creating new opportunities real opportunities for isolated communities that their members are asking me for every single day.”
Moonias had more to say outside the Ontario legislature.
“That’s a very troubling situation for our people and it’s a concern,” he told reporters. “The Ring of Fire is something that’s being fast-tracked without the involvement of our people – more importantly, without informed participation and informed consent.”
The chief of Grassy Narrows, a community that has dealt with the effects of mercury poisoning from a lumber mill upstream, warned about development without consent.
“We don’t want development,” said Rudy Turtle. “For 20 years we’ve been successful at not allowing logging our territory and now we’ve got this issue of mining, people staking and making claims on our lands without consent.”
A leader from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, also known as KI, told the media that the past is repeating itself.
In 2008, Cecilia Begg and five other leaders from KI were jailed for opposing mineral exploration on their territory.
She said the important thing is to protect the land and water for future generations.
“They mistreated us,” she said. “They haven’t apologized and they are still doing the same thing, pushing their agenda, encroaching our lands.”
APTN News reached out to Premier Doug Ford and Greg Rickford and hasn’t received a response.