Neskantaga First Nation (Lansdowne House) is throwing up a legal stop sign on the proposed road into the Ring of Fire.
The First Nation filed a legal intervention with the Mining and Lands Commissioner on Thursday, claiming the province has delayed consultation while it makes announcements on the 400-kilometre route into the chromite deposit on Neskantaga’s traditional lands. If the legal challenge is accepted, it could halt construction on the only road into the Ring of Fire, delaying the entire project.
The band’s legal counsel, Matthew Kirchner, said his clients are entitled to consultation before the government approves projects in their traditional territory.
“They have constitutional rights to respect the land. That’s confirmed under Treaty 9. The Neskantaga also assert that they didn’t extinguish their rights under the Treaty,” he said. “Because of the constitutional protection of those rights under Section 35 of the constitution, they’re entitled to be consulted before there’s a crown decision made that might affect those rights. It’s a constitutional duty on behalf of the crown to consult and if appropriate, accommodate them.”
In mid-June, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci announced Cliffs Natural Resources will be taking the lead on not only the route planning but determining the financing of a north-south road into the Ring of Fire. The proposed road is expected to cross not only the traditional harvesting land and burial sites of Neskantaga, but Canada Chromite Corporation (a subsidiary of KWG) has staked out mining claims along the route. Under the Ontario Mining Act, Cliffs needs that company’s consent to surface rights to build the road, which it’s currently refusing. As a result of that impasse, Bartolucci has referred the application to the mining commission to determine whether Canadian Chromite should be required to give up surface rights to allow Cliffs to build the road.
Neskantaga’s application asserts the First Nation should not only be party to the mining commission proceeding but has constitutional rights that supercede those corporate interests.
Kirchner pointed out there is no dispute that First Nations consultation will take place on the road easement. He called the action an “important step” to prevent the project from gaining momentum to the point where Neskantaga won’t have any options by the time consultations begin.
“There’s a real issue here. When these kinds of approvals happen, projects get momentum and it extends to generate a mentality that the project is going ahead. The Supreme Court of Canada has said consultations need to be done early in the process before key decisions are made because of the momentum these projects get as more and more approvals start piling up. The argument is being made that consultation is going to happen, ‘don’t worry about a thing,’ but the easement can’t be granted until consultation is done.”
This article originally came from the Kenora Daily Miner and News: http://www.kenoradailyminerandnews.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3592307