First Nations must be able to have a say [Ring of Fire] – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – October 27, 2011)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper. Brian MacLeod is the paper’s managing editor.

A s Ontario cabinet ministers were sworn in Oct. 21, Matawa First Nations were demanding that the environmental assessment (EA) process on the Ring of Fire development must be changed — and they want an answer by Tuesday.

The Ring of Fire is a 5,120-square-kilometre chromite, nickel, copper platinum and palladium deposit in the James Bay lowlands. It’s possibly the richest undeveloped deposit in the world, maybe even akin to the riches in Sudbury.

Aside from the mining royalties collected by governments, the enormous infrastructure required– including a $2-billion, 350-km railway — will provide a hefty economic boost for Ontario.

Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources wants to start processing chromite, which is used to make stainless steel, at its Black Thor deposit in 2015, and Toronto’s Noront Resources, which has spent $100 million on exploration in the area, wants to start nickel mining along the same timeline.

Environmental legislation at the federal and provincial levels is being co-ordinated. On Oct. 17, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced it would initiate a comprehensive study on Cliffs’ project, an open pit and underground operation and ore processing facility. That, say Matawa First Nations, is not on. They want a joint-panel process.

Matawa First Nations consists of nine remote and fly-in communities with a combined population of about 8,200. The chiefs think senior levels of government are trying to fast track the EA to help the economy. And since the massive development could have significant environmental impacts — all-seasons roads, for example, will cross nearly 100 bodies of water — they want to be more involved.

Larry Innes, who is with a Toronto law firm specializing in environmental and aboriginal issues, works with Matawa First Nations. The comprehensive process, he explained, is largely a paper procedure with written reports and responses.

A joint-panel process would involve First Nations in developing the terms of reference. It would also involve travelling to communities, and taking and making oral presentations. That, said Innes, would allow community members to talk among themselves and consult experts about their concerns.

Development of the Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit in Newfoundland and Labrador involved the federal and provincial governments, and the Innu and Inuit in just such a process, said Innes.

For the rest of this column, please go to the Sudbury Star website: