Selective outrage [in Ring of Fire First Nations] – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (May 17, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

THE CHIEF of a First Nation near the Ring of Fire mineral deposit has said he’ll die before he allows a mining company to cross a river near his community to access its property. Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias said Cliffs Natural Resources’ chromite development at the headwaters of the Attawapiskat River could destroy his community.

Moonias wrote to Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci to express disappointment with Ontario’s decision to support Cliffs’ multi-billion dollar plan including a north-south all-season road linking the mine with a rail line near Aroland First Nation and the nearby town of Nakina.

“These decisions will have significant adverse effects on our lands, environment and way of life,” Moonias wrote. “Your government has made these decisions without adequate consultation with Neskantaga, in breach of your legal duties . . . .”

Moonias threatened to “use every lawful means at our disposal” to oppose the Cliffs project — the largest single component of the biggest economic development opportunity to hit Northern Ontario in a lifetime. Which is not to say Moonias is opposed to mining development in his reserve’s traditional territory. Neskantaga is one of four First Nations that signed an agreement to work together on an east-west road much closer to the community. That is the route propposed by Noront Resources for its Ring of Fire project.

It would appear that Moonias is willing to support mining that is near his community while opposing mining that is farther from its “lands, environment and way of life.”

It would appear that as long as consultation brings direct benefits to First Nations it is deemed to have been successful. But consultation that does not bring desired results is insufficient and illegal.

Moonias has hired a law firm to make the claim that Ontario may have broken the law by signing deals with Cliffs before consulting First Nations. Yet Cliffs has the support of four First Nations that happen to lie in the path of its proposed north-south road link. This has opened a rift among First Nations within the Matawa Tribal Council, part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN).

In his letter to Bartolucci, Moonias referred to Ontario’s plan to enter into a framework agreement with Webequie and Martin Falls First Nations located within and south of the Ring of Fire respectively.

“Your willingness to ignore us (Neskantaga) is not responsible, and not legal,” Moonias wrote. “You seem to want to separate and divide First Nations rather than dealing honourably.”

Has Ontario been dishonourable in its dealings with Neskantaga with respect to the Noront plan and the east-west road? Would this be an issue if Ontario was supporting the east-west link instead of Cliff’s north-south road?

And who is seeking to divide and conquer? On hearing the news that Ontario was supporting Cliffs’ decision to locate its smelter in Sudbury instead of Greenstone or Thunder Bay and to build the north-south road, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose said, “ . . . my advice to the chiefs of the area is to perhaps re-evaluate the support of the project.”

As it stands, First Nations along Cliffs’ proposed road and those around Sudbury are perfectly happy to be directly involved. But Cliffs’ vice-president Bill Boor insists there are economic development opportunities for all eight First Nations within the Ring of Fire orbit.

That will require a commitment to train First Nations’ residents and fly them to and from good jobs, just the way miners have done for decades. Let us see the province comply with its duty to involve First Nations in development opportunities by helping them to develop job training and helping to negotiate other ways for First Nations to share in this massive development, as they all should.

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