Ring of Fire chief says Ontario breaching consultation agreement

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Just a few months after announcing a framework to negotiate with northern Ontario First Nations to develop the Ring of Fire a “number” of chiefs are concerned the provincial government is failing to honour the deal by simultaneously working towards issuing exploration permits to mining companies, APTN National News has learned.

At least one of the nine Matawa First Nations involved in the talks has written the province asking them to stop the pending permits while talks are underway and without consulting them first.

“We strongly oppose the approach that your government has taken on this matter and would strongly advise that we sit down immediately…,” wrote Chief Peter Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation in this letter dated Sept. 5. “Failure to do so would be an unjustified infringement upon our Aboriginal, treaty and custodial rights.”

According to the letter, the issuance of two exploration permits on Neskantaga land are pending that would allow mining companies to determine if the land is worth of an operational mine.

But Bob Rae, the negotiator for the Matawa First Nations, said Neskantaga isn’t the only First Nation with concerns.

“A number of Matawa chiefs have already been in touch with the government directly,” said Rae in an interview with APTN.

The proposed issuing of these permits is scheduled to be discussed next week between Rae and the Matawa chiefs.

Rae said as far as he knows the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has yet to issue any permits.

“I think its something the government is considering and I think they’re considering it on the basis that its part of the ongoing work of the ministry. The Matawa chiefs have a different view,” said Rae.

In March, the government and Matawa First Nations called the regional framework a “historic” moment in the Ring of Fire negotiations.

Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle said at the time “together” the province and First Nations were “moving forward on realizing the Ring of Fire’s potential and making important advancements on regional, environmental and economic developments.”

APTN asked Gravelle’s office for comment. A spokesman said they would provide answers to questions sent by email later in the day.

The framework calls for “mutual” respect, understanding, participation and accountability.

Rae said how the business as usual approach will affect the framework remains to be seen.

“In terms of what impact it has on the framework that is obliviously something we’re going to be discussing with the government,” said Rae.

As for Neskantaga the government is failing the framework by looking to issue permits without consulting.

“Neskantaga First Nation makes the assertion that Ontario is failing to deal with Neskantaga on a government to government basis and therefore reminds Ontario of its commitment under the Regional Framework Agreement,” Moonias wrote outlining the framework line-by-line.

The Ring of Fire, located 540 kmnortheast of Thunder Bay, is one of the most significant mineral regions in Ontario, according to the province’s website.

Estimates peg it to be worth $60 billion and includes the largest deposit of chromite ever discovered in North America. Chromite is a key ingredient of stainless steel.

There’s also large amounts of nickel, copper and platinum.

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