Ring of Fire: Bring on the mining Marshall Plan (Part 2 of 2) – by Stan Sudol (Sudbury Star – July 13, 2015)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story.

Roads, the best way to find new deposits

One of the first priorities is road transportation. Last March at the PDAC mining convention, the federal and provincial governments jointly announced roughly $800,000 in funding for four of the five isolated First Nations – Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga and Eabametoong – to begin consultations on an east-west road that will connect their communities and the Ring of Fire camp to the provincial highway system. A small baby step of progress.

However, Marten Falls is currently not part of this initiative. While this community is the smallest populated of the Matawa Tribal Council, it probably has the most clout as its traditional territory encompasses the Ring of Fire. Although Webequie is considerably closer to the mining camp, it didn’t receive full-reserve status until 2001. Hence it is critical that Martin Falls be strongly encouraged to join the consortium discussing the road connection.

Manitoba is currently undertaking a visionary initiative to build all-season roads on the east side of Lake Winnipeg (which has similar Canadian Shield geography as in Northwestern Ontario) to connect isolated First Nations communities. The primary reason for the establishment of the East Side Transportation Initiative is to lower travel costs for essential supplies to 13 Aboriginal communities. In addition, winter roads are becoming less dependable due to climate change.

Manitoba works with the local communities to build capacity so they can benefit from the road construction and bridge building. The first 156-kilometre stretch of all season road should cost roughly $300 million and be completed by 2019.

Even though there are no mineral deposits or other resource developments to drive this project, the Manitoba government feels that the road initiative is of provincial strategic significance and will eventually build 1,000 kilometres of all-season gravel road an estimated cost of $3 billion. Manitoba has been a have-not province for decades.

With the exception of Fort Servern and Peawanuek – both located almost on the shores of distant Hudson Bay and have very small populations – all other isolated First Nations communities in the province’s northwest, just south of the 54th parallel latitude should be connected by road as part of the mining Marshall Plan.

A modern Aboriginal version of former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s (1957-1963) Road to Resources program to construct vital infrastructure to enable easier access for the exploration and development of mineral resources.

As in Manitoba, these communities should be connected to significantly lower the cost of food, building materials and other supplies as well as open up some the richest unexplored geology in the province. As most junior explorers and prospectors will say, “the best way to find a mine is build a road.”

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

Looking at a map of Northwestern Ontario, most observers would be struck by the enormous abundance of lakes and rivers located on traditional Canadian Shield geology. If there is an issue that the federal government should hang its head in absolute shame, it is the lack of potable water, not only in four of the five isolated Ring of Fire communities but throughout Northwestern Ontario.

And let’s keep in mind that the Conservatives have only been in power for slightly less than a decade. The Liberals are just as guilty. In fact, I don’t see a First Nations potable water strategy on any federal party’s agenda.

Neskantaga has been on a boil water alert for an astonishing 20 years (the longest in the country), Eabametoong has not had potable water for 14 years, Marten Falls since 2005 and Nibinamik is relatively lucky as their water issues only started in 2013. Recent revelations that Indian and North Affairs Canada, over the past five years, has withheld roughly $1 billion in social services funding only compounds the bitterness.

And Canadians love to boast to the world that we send the military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to earthquake torn Haiti or cyclone devastated Philippines and provide potable water within a day or so. Or our NGOS continually solicit our donations in order to provide clean drinking water in many desperately poor African countries while our fellow Canadians on reserves suffer this indignity.

Nishnawbe Aki Nation (NAN) is the political organization representing First Nations who signed Treaty #9 in 1905, with an addition in 1930, that agreed to share much of northern Ontario with Canada. According to a May 2015 news release, there were 35 Drinking Water Advisories in effect out of 49 NAN communities. And that a 2011 report found that it would cost about one billion dollars to upgrade or replace the water and waste water needs of all NAN communities.

The federal government’s income splitting initiative that largely benefits the top five per cent of income earners in this country will cost the federal treasury roughly $3 billion a year. Now I understand First Nations are not part of the federal conservative core voting group, however, as stated previously the Aboriginal communities in the Ring of Fire and to the immediate west are sitting above roughly $270 and $340 billion worth of precious and base metals.

If all those billions of potential mineral deposits are not an incentive to at least ensure potable water in all NAN communities, what does that say about us as a society?

Grid power versus diesel

The last major infrastructure initiative that I want to discuss in this essay is the reliance of most the First Nations communities in the far northwest on diesel generated power.

The cost of diesel generated power is heavily subsidized by governments, costing three to 10 times more than grid-power, is very environmentally risky and significantly limits expansion and business opportunities in these communities.

Wataynikaneyap Power is an advanced First Nations-led transmission company which was originally started by Goldcorp Inc. five years ago to upgrade a major transmission line to their Musselwhite gold mine located 480 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2015/07/12/bring-on-the-mining-marshall-plan