[Ring of Fire] Koper Lake blockade resumes; Marten Falls feels left out – by Rick Garrick (Wawatay News – March 17, 2011)

Wawatay News is Northern Ontario’s First Nation Voice with offices in Sioux Lookout, Timmins and Thunder Bay. This article was posted on their website on March 17, 2011. James Thom is the Editor – jamest@wawatay.on.ca

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

Citing rapidly moving development and inadequate involvement for Marten Falls, the community launched its second blockade of the Ring of Fire.

After taking part in a traditional ceremony March 3 at the community’s blockade site on Koper Lake in the James Bay lowlands, Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias spoke with local and national media about his community’s concerns in the Ring of Fire mineral exploration area. Koper Lake is located about 128 kilometres north of Marten Falls in its traditional territory.

“We feel that the issues here and the development is getting away from us, too far ahead, without our adequate and meaningful involvement,” Moonias said.

The Ring of Fire contains chromite, a rare mineral used to make stainless steel. It falls in the traditional territory of Marten Falls and Webequie.

“We never got to the first stage yet where we have meaningful exploration agreements,” Moonias said during the blockade, adding his community plans to hire a negotiator to work on their concerns. “What we’re saying here is slow down a little bit.”

Moonias said the memorandums of understanding (MOUs) his community received from the mineral exploration companies since their January-March 2010 blockade with Webequie in the Ring of Fire have been “unsubstantial, superficial engagements.”

“None of them touched on the transfer of properties,” Moonias said during a March 15 interview, noting that his community is looking for some financial involvement in the transfer of properties in the Ring of Fire.

“That is the kind of in-depth, deep substantial agreement that I wanted – money.”

Moonias also expressed concerns about plans by the mineral companies to take samples out of the area for testing to determine the value of the ore.

“One of them is Cliffs (National Resources Inc.) and they got the permission last Friday (March 11) – they got the letter from the MNR,” Moonias said.

Joanne Ghiz, a Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry spokewoman said efforts were made to meet with the community to understand the potential impacts of the activity.

“Through various telephone discussions and meetings, no adverse impacts were identified that would suggest that this permit would have a negative impact on the community or development in the region,” Ghiz said.

“One of the conditions of the permit is that Cliffs works closely with Marten Falls First Nation to ensure potential impacts are addressed and minimized accordingly.”

Ghiz said the permit allows the company to further investigate the potential of the resource so the greater economic opportunities for the North and the province can be realized.

Requests for responses were left with Cliff’s office in Cleveland, Ohio but they did not reply as of press time.

Moonias is disappointed the community has seen little to no benefit to the exploration.

“What we asked for last winter was that our winter road (to the Albany River) be opened so we could get into business to be involved in the transportation of the material that is needed here so that our people can work too,” Moonias said. “There is nothing going up there – just my (snowmachine) trail to my cabin.”

Moonias said his community is looking to build a winter road to the Albany River to supply the exploration companies.

“Our winter road is idle; there are no items (exploration company supplies) coming through there. Everything is flown through,” he said.

Moonias said two flights landed at Koper Lake early that morning and at one point this winter there were 36 flights by local airlines bringing in supplies for the exploration companies.

“The underlying issue of what we are doing here is we want to get out of this trap that we are in – the welfare, the Indian Act, the Indian reserve system.”

Moonias said his forefathers didn’t sign up for welfare when they signed the treaty in 1905.

“I think that they signed that we all live together happy, all working for our bread and supporting our families.”

Moonias wants to see a bright future for his people, so “they are not just labourers.”

Moonias also brought up 10 concerns the community has about development in the Ring of Fire, including the Ring of Fire railway corridor study that was completed without the community’s input.

“What I’m looking for is for my community to be involved in the decision of where the access will go,” Moonias said March 15. “We’re already building a road to the Albany River. We want that corridor used.”

Moonias said his community has no resources to pay for their negotiators or legal advisors and is looking for assistance.

“The government gave us enough money until April 1, but that won’t be enough,” Moonias said.

Marten Falls is also requesting reimbursement of costs from last year’s blockade as well as the current blockade because it was not their fault they set up the blockade.

“Our rights were stepped on – that’s why we went there,” Moonias said about the blockade. “Whoever stepped on our rights should pay.”

Moonias said the blockade is staffed by a couple of monitors who are watching for activity by mineral exploration companies.

If there is activity on the mining sites, the community could make it difficult for future progress in the Ring of Fire, Moonias said.

“For one thing, we are not going to move that land-use plan (under the Far North Act),” Moonias said. “They need the land-use plan in order to develop the projects here.”

Michael Gravelle, minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, wouldn’t speak specifically to the concerns raised by Moonias, but said he is working with the community to “help resolve those concerns.”

Gravelle and Ring of Fire coordinator Christine Kaszycki met with Moonias March 11 in Toronto.

Gravelle is also planning to take up an offer by Moonias to visit his community in a couple of weeks.

“I certainly share Chief Moonias’ belief that there needs to be very significant benefits to all the communities that will be impacted by the potential development in the Ring of Fire,” Gravelle said during a March 9 interview.

“It is important to say that it’s still very much at very early stages and I know there have been some First Nations members who have been hired as workers.”

He added the Ontario government agrees for the Ring of Fire project to move forward First Nations need clear and significant benefits.

Gravelle said the government’s Ring of Fire coordinator should not only work closely with Moonias but with all First Nation chiefs, companies and municipalities involved in the Ring of Fire.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy is looking for the people of NAN to benefit from the resources within NAN territory. He said all the parties involved in the Ring of Fire need to discuss the issues.

“If we fail to have co-operation between all parties, it will be just that much more difficult to do business,” Beardy said during the blockade. “I don’t think we want to see that because potentially if there is uncertainty here, it scares the potential (investors) away.”

Beardy said everyone stands to benefit if the mineral resource developments in the Ring of Fire are done properly, collaboratively and in co-operation with all parties.

“What the chief is saying here is very simple,” Beardy said. “They want a guarantee that 50 years from now there is bread and butter for the people, that there is something to look forward to by our young people with this activity.”

Moonias announced protest plans in January due to concerns about a 40-man camp built on muskeg along Koper Lake. Mineral exploration companies working in the area were using the camp, but Moonias was concerned of the impact it would have on the environment.