No joint review, no Ring of Fire: Matawa chiefs – by Rick Garrick (Wawatay News – October 27, 2011)

Wawatay News is Northern Ontario’s First Nation Voice with offices in Sioux Lookout, Timmins and Thunder Bay.

The chiefs of Matawa First Nations have withdrawn their support for development in the Ring of Fire. The Oct. 21 announcement comes after the federal government announced plans to conduct an environmental study of a potential mine project in the Ring of Fire, an area in the James Bay lowlands near several Matawa communities.

But Matawa chiefs said they want a more thorough study of the chromite mine proposed by Cliffs Natural Resources, a company based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Constance Lake Chief Roger Wesley said that request fell on deaf ears by the federal agency responsible for environmental studies.

“We will be forced to resort to alternative measures if Canada and Ontario continue to ignore the First Nations that are being impacted by Ring of Fire developments,” Wesley said. “We want development, but we also want to make sure that our lands, waters, wildlife, and our way of life are not destroyed in the process.”

Wesley did not say what those alternative measures would be, but it’s the government that is forcing the communities to come up with a plan of action.

“They are not listening to us or consulting us in a meaningful way, and they are certainly not accommodating us,” Wesley said.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced Oct. 17 that it is moving forward with a Comprehensive Study of Cliffs’ planned project. In May, Cliffs submitted its project description to the agency, initiating the action. The move comes even though the Matawa communities, for several months, have called for a Joint Review Panel environmental assessment, a more thorough process involving the federal and provincial governments.

“The joint panel is more detailed, and we First Nations are effectively involved in the process, whereas the comprehensive study is limited,” said Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie.

Wabasse said Matawa wants the joint review process because of concerns with environmental impacts the development will have on First Nation traditional territory.

“The land over there is all marsh and they are talking about an open pit mine,” Wabasse said.
The Matawa chiefs feel the government’s approach to development will slowly destroy their traditional way of life, extinguish their treaty rights and destroy their homelands and their children’s future.

Kim Jorgenson, environmental assessment officer for the Matawa Four Rivers Environmental Services Group, said the joint review process is the best option to ensure more opportunity for public participation, allowing for oral hearings in First Nation communities.

“Ideally a new process would be developed to address all the potential environmental impacts from all proposed developments in the Ring of Fire area, but for now a Joint Review Panel is the most appropriate (environmental assessment) for these projects,” Jorgensen said.

The project, outlined in Cliffs’ description filed with the CEAA, consists of an open pit/underground mine, an ore processing facility, a transportation corridor and a refining facility.

The predicted rate of extracting minerals for the proposed 30-year life of the mine is at a rate of 6,000 to 12,000 tonnes per day. The transportation corridor includes a north-south all-season road from Aroland First Nation to the mine site east of Webequie.

Jorgensen said the roads proposed in the Cliffs project would cross about 100 bodies of water, including three major rivers.

“The Cliffs project will re-route three waterways and drain several ponds at the mine site,” Jorgenson said. “These activities will definitely impact fish habitat and wildlife in the area.”

Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias said government-to-government dialogue is needed to deal with the ongoing frustrations of Matawa leaders.

“We need the Ontario premier and the prime minister to intervene and come to the table,” he said. “Visits from junior ministerial representatives telling us what is happening instead of asking us how we want to participate is not consultation or accommodation.”

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