Six Ring of Fire First Nations communities have warned the companies hoping to develop the area’s rich chromite and nickel-PGM deposits, including international iron ore and coal miner Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF-N), that they’re about to be evicted.
In a press release on June 22, several communities warned that they were in the “final stages of issuing a 30-day eviction notice to all mining companies with exploration and development camps in the region” of northern Ontario's James Bay lowlands.
“We are sending a strong message to Ontario and Canada that we need to negotiate a process for First Nation participation in the mining projects that will be changing our lives forever,” said Neskantaga First Nation Chief Peter Moonias in a statement. “Unless and until we have a table for government to government negotiations we will evict the intruders from our lands.”
Asked if the eviction could be avoided, Moonias said yes, and outlined several issues that first need to be addressed by government.
First, Moonias says that the relationship between governments and First Nations must be treated as a government to government relationship, adding that First Nations are not “stakeholders.”
“We are a treaty nation. We’re not cottage holders or stakeholders of any kind, we are a government, we have authority over our lands. That’s why we need to create a table where we can sit across from the government on a tripartite level.”
Moonias also wants the province to embrace the principle of free, prior informed consent, something that isn’t included in the recently revised Ontario Mining Act.
In addition, he says more environmental oversight over Ring of Fire companies is needed, because the government is not monitoring their impact.
If an eviction notice is issued and the mineral companies don’t respect it within 30 days, Moonias says the coalition will peacefully occupy their camps to prevent work on their claims. The First Nation coalition will ask for the support of chiefs across Canada at the upcoming Assembly of First Nations meeting in Toronto, July 17-19.
“We need to be involved in these developments or else the young generation that we have today, they’re not going to survive — they’re going to be on the streets, they’re going to be living the same way some of us are living right now, in poverty,” Moonias said. “Resources are being extracted from lands that we have title to. In any other society, other than the First Nations society, you call that theft.”
In a related matter, the Neskantaga First Nation is intervening in a dispute over the proposed north-south road to the Ring of Fire from Nakina between Cliffs and KWG Resources (KWG-V). The proposed route would go through some of KWG's claims. The case is set to be heard by the Mining and Lands Commissioner in Toronto on July 5. KWG has a 30% interest in Cliffs’ Big Daddy chromite deposit.
The government of Ontario is keen to see development in the Ring of Fire and says it’s trying to engage the six frustrated First Nations.
“We’re hoping that these communities will reconsider their action,” says Ron St. Louis, a communications manager with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in Sudbury. St. Louis says that the lines of communication are still open with the Matawa tribal council First Nations who issued the release and that the government is hopeful the situation can be resolved without any evictions being carried out.
The First Nations behind the warning are the Neskantaga, Aroland, Constance Lake, Ginoogaming, Longlake #58, and Nibinamik communities. Two of the First Nations closest to the Ring of Fire action, Webequie and Marten Falls (also part of the Matawa tribal council), did not sign their names to the press release, while a third, Neskantaga, did.
Although the statement hasn’t been the first sign of dissent among Ring of Fire First Nations (several communities blocked airstrips in the area in early 2010), Cliffs was taken offguard by the announcement.
“Cliffs is in active discussions and negotiations with the Webeque and Marten Falls communities, the primary communities impacted by our proposed mine and camp activities,” the company said in a statement emailed by spokesperson Patricia Persico. “We are surprised and disappointed by the proposed actions announced by six other Matawa First Nations. However, we continue to reach out to these other communities to engage in active and productive discussions.”
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