Neskantaga First Nation, Ont. — Another First Nation close to the Ring of Fire is calling out the Ontario government for their handling of the newly created development corporation.
Neskantaga First Nation chief Peter Moonias last week sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle and Minister of Natural Resources Bill Mauro, expressing disappointment with inadequate consultation from the province.
“It didn’t happen in this case,” Moonias said in a telephone interview Tuesday, saying he was not contacted until shortly before the announcement.
“It’s not that I don’t support (the development corporation). It’s just the way it was done. The framework agreement was signed by the chiefs and the province of Ontario to work together to develop the Ring of Fire together with decisions being made by the province and First Nations communities.”
The province in late August officially created the development corporation, a non-profit organization first announced late last year that is intended to bridge together First Nations, industry and senior levels of government to propel Ring of Fire development.
It became a pillar of the Liberal government’s Ring of Fire development strategy in the spring election, with Wynne vowing to establish it within 60 days of taking office.
While Gravelle said he would leave the issue of adequate consultation to be defined by the First Nations, he argued the government has had discussions with them.
Gravelle and Wynne met with all nine Matawa First Nation chiefs, including Moonias, at their annual general meeting in July to discuss the impending development corporation.
“The understanding was we would remain partners in achieving our mutual goals and that any discussions about any potential Matawa First Nations involvement in the development corporation model we brought forward would be the subject of discussion or negotiation at the regional process table,” Gravelle said.
“I won’t for one second pretend every chief expressed great support for what we’re doing but it was the kind of conversation that I think reflected the relationship we have.”
Neskantaga is not the only First Nation community to voice concern with the province’s direction in wake of the development corporation announcement.
Just days after the corporation was announced Webequie First Nation, which is closest to the Ring of Fire, expressed disappointment with chief Cornelius Wabasse accusing the government of moving unilaterally.
In his letter Moonias identified six specific concerns relating to the pending issuance of exploration permits to Noront and MacDonald Mines. In addition to consultation, those include actually receiving funding to engage in full consultation to understand and analyze the permits.
The letter asserts the province fails to deal with Neskantaga on a government to government basis.
“They committed funding for us to work along with them but they don’t give us any funding. How can we do it? The province is the one that has money. They didn’t give it to us,” Moonias said.
“We’re waiting for the money to consult and work with First Nations people.”
Gravelle said the budget has the money set aside to follow through on that commitment.
However it’s not as simple as just handing the funds over.
“We have a commitment from the budget for $5-million for phase two of the negotiations with Matawa. We’re working with each First Nation closely in terms of getting an agreement in what those dollars are,” he said.
Gravelle added the permits had been put on hold to help the community cope with their state of emergency but that pressure from industry means they need to start moving ahead.
The development corporation as it currently stands is only in its first phase, one that Gravelle described as being in its interim stages.
The second phase will involve discussions around resource revenue sharing, regional infrastructure support and enhanced environmental assessments.