Native Canadians Fear Mining Boom in “Ring of Fire” – by By Fawzia Sheikh (Inter Press Service News Agency – July 30, 2012)

TORONTO, Jul 30 2012 (IPS) – With accusations that Canadian resource companies and government officials are disregarding the need for indigenous consent in development projects, First Nations leaders have lashed out by approving a resolution calling for a moratorium on mining development in the so-called Ring of Fire until proper consultation begins.

The Ring of Fire includes chromite, nickel, copper, platinum, zinc, gold and kimberlite deposits and is touted as the most promising mineral development opportunity in Ontario in nearly a century.
The resources are located 540 kilometres east of the city of Thunder Bay within the shared territories of a handful of Aboriginal communities around McFaulds Lake. The region is home to more than 100 bodies of water and four major rivers in the James Bay Lowlands in the northern part of the province.
“We haven’t had any meeting that is meaningful with the province,” Chris Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation told 633 chiefs-in-assembly at the Assembly of First Nations annual conference from Jul. 17 to 19. “Right now, we’re being bullied by a mining company, a giant mining company and a desperate province.”

Canada supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which highlights the international human rights norm of obtaining free, prior and informed consent of Aboriginal communities related to actions affecting their rights.
Although private-sector estimates suggest the combined value of chromite and nickel in the north is approximately 60 billion dollars, it is more difficult to gauge the significance of the other commodities still in earlier stages of exploration, said Christine Kaszycki, the assistant deputy minister with the Ring of Fire secretariat in the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in Sudbury, Ontario.
Cliffs Natural Resources is the largest of several companies with mining claims linked to the metals bounty in northern Ontario, while other key players include Noront Resources and KWG Resources.
With such intense private-sector and government interest in the remote swath of land, not surprisingly some local residents feel excluded from the conversation.
At the heart of the Ring of Fire is the McIntyre River, a tributary of the Attiwapiskat River, where Neskantaga First Nation is based, said Moonias.
“We are the only community that is directly linked to the river system,” he noted, highlighting the band’s environmental concerns. First Nations in the north have repeatedly stressed the importance of conducting appropriate environmental assessments.
Neskantaga filed a petition with the Ontario Mining and Land Commissioner asking to be thoroughly consulted before a 340-kilometre road is built through its land to gain access to a proposed chromite mine in the Attawapiskat River watershed.
Cliffs recently announced a 3.3-billion-dollar investment including the chromite mine, transportation corridor and a processing facility in the vicinity.
This month, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives issued a report stating that Aboriginal people must be considered “true partners” in resource and energy projects since many of these assets, which can yield revenue-sharing agreements, equity interests, improved employment opportunities, training and service contracts with Aboriginal-owned businesses, are located near their communities.
The report notes that Aboriginal groups have “legitimate concerns” about major resource developments revolving around land claims, the environment and their traditional way of life.
Likewise, northern residents have expressed fears about other players stripping valuable resources from their territory and relegating them to a persistent crisis of substandard housing and education, poor access to health care and chronic unemployment.
Earlier in July, several northern communities concerned about the impact of the proposed mines and infrastructure development issued a 30-day eviction notice to all companies with exploration and development camps in the region. The communities threatened a peaceful blockade on the land preventing operations from taking place.
Not all bands, however, are determined to apply the brakes to mining development in the Ring of Fire until all indigenous groups are satisfied.

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