Challenges ahead [Thunder Bay mining forum] – by Jeff Labine ( – June 20, 2013)

Mike Metatawabin says he’s disappointed that there wasn’t more First Nation representation at this year’s provincial mining conference.

Metatawabin, the president of Five Nations Energy Inc., joined about 50 other participants at the third annual Ontario Mining Forum at the Valhalla Inn. The two-day mining forum, which started Thursday, promised keynote speakers such as Ontario’s Ring of Fire Secretariat Christine Kaszycki but did not deliver.

Instead, the forum heard from various speakers including politicians and the city’s Community Economic Development Commission on the mining industry in the region.

The cost to attend the event averaged out to be about $2,000 per person. Some participants speculated that that price kept more people, including First Nation officials, from attending. With major projects like the Ring of Fire being discussed, Metatawabin believes it’s crucial First Nation organizations and chiefs attend these conferences.

“During the course of these conferences that I’ve attended, these presentations bring a lot of hope and a lot of inspiration to what we need in the North,” he said. “I think our leadership needs to hear this and be a part of these conferences. We need to sit down, set aside the politics and maybe engage our business people. There’s so much potential here.”

With 49 First Nation communities in the North, Metatawabin said he hoped to have seen at least 20 chiefs in attendance.

The conference was a mix of optimism and pessimism about the region’s mining projects. Although many of the speakers declared the Ring of Fire project would move forward at some point in time, some of the major hurdles including meeting the energy needs for the various projects have yet to be dealt with.

Further complicating the matter is the drop in the price of gold, which hit a two-year low recently. The price of gold dropped Thursday by more than four per cent to $1,295 an ounce, a price not seen since September 2010.
John Mason, project manager for CEDC, said prosperity of the Northwest is based on gold, the Ring of Fire and a variety of other commodities and seeing a low price in gold is a reason to be concerned.

“We keep our eye on pricing because pricing means everything to these projects in terms of commodity price,” he said.

“When you’re looking at projects like Hammond Reef and Rainy River Resources, they’re sensitive to price. Certainly, it could be a short-term trend although we have seen commodity prices slipping over the past six months and that is a concern. Some of the higher grade gold deposits I’d be less concerned going forward.”

Last week Cliffs Natural Resource cancelled its Environmental Assessment in the Ring of Fire.

The Cleveland-based company suspended its work on an environmental assessment for a proposed $3 billion project in the Ring of Fire saying until issues with First Nations and government are resolved it has taken the process as far as it can go.

Mason said that decision did take some people aback but it still wasn’t completely surprising as it has been a difficult year and a half for the company.

“Cliffs is still marching ahead on a number of fronts,” he said. “I think there’s perhaps some frustration. They’re concerned that the province has to respond on a number of fronts particularly in respect to roads. I guess also details on power pricing, load and the EA process.”

Mason added the government will be meeting with Cliffs to try and resolve these issues.


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