The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
A majority of 1,000 Ontarians surveyed in a poll about mining development in the Ring of Fire belt said the ore should be processed in First Nation territory in the vicinity of the proposed mine site.
But while the poll results pleased area First Nation leaders, they seem moot because leading Ring of Fire proponent Cliffs Natural Resources said earlier this spring that chromite ore will be processed on the outskirts of Sudbury.
The OraclePoll Research telephone poll was commissioned by the Municipality of Greenstone and Aroland First Nation. Both communities want Cliffs to build the company’s 300-megawatt smelter on the outskirts of Aroland.
The poll results showed that 45 per cent of respondents believe that the ore should be smelted in the First Nation traditional territory from which it is mined. In a news release Friday, Aroland Chief Sonny Gagnon said the poll “validates what we have known for a long time.
“It’s important for us to know that the majority of Ontarians support the position that we, the First Nations, should not allow mining to happen unless processing occurs in our territory.”
The poll indicated that nearly 90 per cent of respondents feel that First Nations “should have been consulted” before the location for a smelter was decided.
Aroland is among a group of six First Nations preparing to issue an eviction notice to companies working in the Ring of Fire. The others are Constance Lake, Ginoogaming, Longlake No. 58, Neskantaga and Nibinamik.
The communities’ leaders are in the final stages of issuing a 30-day eviction notice to all mining companies with exploration and development camps in the region, and demanding an immediate moratorium on all Ring of Fire mining activity.
“Unless we stop this project now and assert our Aboriginal and Treaty rights we will be left on the sidelines watching the chromite leave our lands while our communities remain in poverty,” Nibinamik Chief Johnny Yellowhead said in a news release.
The chiefs say their communities are not opposed to development.
But, they say the development must be sustainable, responsible and undergo an appropriate environmental assessment which includes First Nation participation, consultation, accommodation and consent.
They go on to say the projects will damage land and river systems, change their way of life and deliver no benefits to their communities which face inadequate housing, substandard education, poor access to health care, a prescription drug abuse crisis and chronic unemployment.
Proponents say the Ring of Fire camp stands to make Ontario a more attractive place to invest in and trade with than other chromite-supplying jurisdictions. The result will be decades of job creation and economic activity for the province.
Despite widespread media attention about the Ring of Fire mining belt 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay in the past year, the poll showed that nearly 70 per cent of respondents were unaware of it.
About 57 per cent said they supported the First Nation position to not allowing mining in the Ring of Fire unless the demand to process the ore locally is met. Twenty-five per cent opposed the Aroland position, while 17 per cent didn’t know how to respond.
In choosing a Sudbury-area brownfield for its smelter, Cliffs said the site has, among other things, ready access to hydroelectric power and a supply of skilled labour.
The margin of error for the 1,000-person survey is plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 out of 20 times.