Basic Facts About the Ring of Fire Including FNs Traditional Territories – by Stan Sudol

This post was originally published last year. A lot has happened in the Ring of Fire since then so I thought I would repost with some updates and interesting links. Some of the most significant developments have been the cancellation of the March 26, 2014 Regional “Framework Agreement” and the election of a new Chief for Eabametoong. On June 17th of this year, Harvey Yesno, former Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation was elected replacing former Chief Elizabeth Atlookan.

Eabametoong is the largest populated community among the five isolated FNs in the Ring of Fire and is also one of the original signatories to Treaty 9 in 1905 along with Marten Falls. I will elaborate on the importance of Treaty 9 in a future update.

Chief Yesno seems to be a very pragmatic, pro-business individual who sees economic development on Eabametoong’s tradiational territories as a way of improving the standard of living in his community. This link https://bit.ly/2wZDqi5 brings you to a previous keynote speech he gave in 2014 while this link is a recent profile in Northern Ontario Business https://bit.ly/2nbGm9v .

The Doug Ford government recently announced the cancellation of the Ring of Fire Regional Framework Agreement originally signed in March 2014. Most of the southern Ontario media published headlines to the affect that the original Framework Agreement was being “torn up” or “shredded”. Regardless of the title, this was not an “Agreement to develop the Ring of Fire,” it was really an “Agreement to negotiate” a final consensus. As the original document stated, it was a “community-based process of negotiation related to mineral and other related developments in the area known as the Ring of Fire.”

Here is a link the original “Regional Framework Agreement” document: https://bit.ly/2mKbPPN

Unfortunately, last night’s episode of  TV Ontario’s highly respected program The Agenda, host Steve Paikin – like most of the southern Ontario media – made it sound like the original Framework Agreement was a “done deal” that the current government ripped up.  TVO -Hitting Reset On the Ring of Fire: The Agreement Bites the Dust:  https://bit.ly/2n90YPD 

Clearly, the Ford government did not do a very good job  communicating to the media what the original Framework Agreement entailed.

After five fruitless years and about $20 million spent, with two high profile lead negotiators – former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae, representing the FNs communities and former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci representing Ontario – a consensus from the nine First Nations involved was impossible and so the Ford government decided to close down the negotiations and deal with the communities on an individual basis.

I have been told, but have not verified, that the Framework Agreement “negotiations” had been basically suspended during the last two years of the Wynne mandate and provided with little or no funds to continue. Then the Wynne government decided to change strategy and only work with First Nations who were mine friendly.

During those two years both Chief Elizabeth Atlookan from Eabametoong and Chief Wayne Moonias from Neskantaga were outspoken against mineral development in the Ring of Fire – unless their “conditions” which were never clearly stated, were resolved- even though the traditional territories of both communities did not include the Ring of Fire mineral discoveries or the north/south route, as has been clearly shown in the original 2018 posting below.

On another important note, Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls has been re-elected yesterday (September 24th). First Nations are required to hold elections every two years. The vast majority of the Ring of Fire mineral discoveries and the land for the north-south road is in the traditional territory of Marten Falls. That community has taken the lead for the currently underway environmental assessment of the north-south road that will link Marten Falls south towards the Ontario highway system. Ring of Fire proponents are still waiting for the provincial funding needed to conduct the environmental assessment of the north-south road between Marten Falls and the mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire.  (Stan Sudol – September 25, 2019)

Original 2018 Posting

Discovered in 2007 and located roughly 540 kms. northeast of Thunder Bay, the isolated Ring of Fire mining camp is considered one of the most important mineral discoveries in Ontario over the past 100 years.

In 2010, Richard Nemis and John D. Harvey (Noront Resources) Mac Watson and Donald Hoy (Freewest Resources Canada) and Neil D. Novak (Spider Resources) were credited for the discovery by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.

It is estimated that the value of currently discovered mineral deposits – primarily chromite, nickel and copper – are worth about $60 billion in economic activity over a 30-year period.  Jim Franklin, the former chief geoscientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, predicted at least $140 billion worth of chromite and base metals will be discovered in the Ring of Fire, and an additional $140 billion to $190 billion of gold are lying in the many greenstone belts to the west of the camp.

First Nations in northern Ontario are composed of a reserve, where the community is located, and a wider area known as their “traditional territories” which generally include traditional trap lines, burial sites and historic regions of economic activity.

There are five isolated First Nations communities that surround the Ring of Fire:  Eabametoong (Fort Hope), Nibinamik (Summer Beaver), Marten Falls (Ogoki Post), Neskantaga (Lansdowne House) and Webequie. The historic past names of four of these communities are shown in the brackets. They are part of the Matawa Tribal Council with also includes four road-accessed communities, Aroland, Long Lake #58, Ginoogaming and Constance Lake. Each community is very well aware of their traditional territories and as part of the Far North Act, the five isolated First Nations are preparing community-based land use documents.

As with non-Aboriginal society, First Nations do not speak with one voice. Recently, Eabametoong Chief Elizabeth Atlookan and Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias have been very vocal in the news media about their opposition to the proposed north/south road, that would link the rich Ring of Fire mineral deposits to the provincial highway system, due to the lack of “proper consultation”.

What that consultation should entail, what demands they want in order to give these developments their “blessings” are never highlighted.

As with most northern and isolated Aboriginal settlements across Canada, every First Nation in the vicinity of the Ring of Fire mineral discovery has high rates of unemployment, terrible housing and a host of other health, addiction, infrastructure and social issues that both federal and provincial governments have not been able to resolve.

Without a doubt, all these communities should be part of the consultation process for both the north/south road and future mine development. However, in many other regions of the country, sustainable mineral development has helped significantly reduce many of these issues. It is not realistic to expect the mining sector to solve all social problems.

Some successful mining projects that have employed First Nations and/or Inuit across the country including: Nunavut (Agnico Eagle/Baker Lake – gold), northern Ontario (Goldcorp/Musselwhite – gold), northern Quebec (Glencore/Raglan -nickel)  Newfoundland and Labrador (Vale/Voisey’s Bay -nickel), northern Saskatchewan (Cameco -uranium) and the many diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, just to mention a few high profile developments. All of these mining projects actively reach out and train Indigenous employees as well as work with Aboriginal/Inuit mine supply companies and sign extensive Impact Benefit Agreements with communities closest to the mine site. For a more detailed article on the success of Nunavut vs. the failure to date of the Ring of Fire: https://bit.ly/2SiTKmz

It must be clearly noted that this proposed north/south road to the Ring of Fire’s known mineral discoveries are not on the traditional territories of Eabometoong or Neskantaga. In fact, the Eabametoong reserve is a little over 170 kms south-west of the proposed first mine in the Ring of Fire – Noront Resources’ Eagle’s Nest underground nickel-copper mine – while Neskantaga is about 130kms in the same direction.

A previous news release – https://bit.ly/2BN9AAy – put out by both communities “strongly suggested” that they would have to clean up any potential “mine spill” or other problems: “…we are the ones who will have to struggle if our waters are poisoned and our kids won’t be able to experience the great hunting and fishing we have right now.”

This is simply not true!

Eabametoong and Neskantaga are both up-river so if some problem did occur – and the risk for this is very, very low – neither community would be affected as the water flows eastward toward James Bay.

I suspect green, left-leaning lawyers and other advisers have a tendency to “hyperventilate” or issue “fake news” about potential risk and will continue to do so in the future! Unfortunately, this significantly undermines their credibility and their more legitimate concerns may not be addressed in a more timely manner.

The small community of Parry Sound is 160 kms south of Canada’s biggest mining camp Sudbury. They are connected by Highway 69. The only environmental impact Sudbury ever had its sister community to the south was the suphur pollution from the giant Copper Cliff smelter and its superstack. There are no smelters planned for the Ring of Fire and that superstack is slated to come down in a few years time as there is not enough pollution to justify its existence. The mining industry has come a long way in the past half century!

We should also not forget that hundreds of thousands of people live adjacent to northern Ontario’s great mining camps like Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Red Lake etc, and the hunting and fishing in these regions has not been affected. In fact, these northern Ontario communities have a huge problem with an over-population of bears! And car collisions with deer and moose in these mining camps and throughout northern Ontario are legendary!

The people who work for the mining companies or related industries in these northern communities are paid a high middle-class salary, many own their own homes and are able to provide their children with a terrific quality of life!

Let’s put the Ring of Fire’s potential industrial risk into a context that southern Ontario people can clearly understand. Canada’s oldest nuclear generating station is located at Pickering, Ontario, a mere 45 kms from downtown Toronto. Any problem at that nuclear station would potentially affect millions of people. However, that risk is also very, very low and there are many regulatory rules and oversight – as with mining in northern Ontario – to ensure public safety.

Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum and Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse are both working on the necessary environmental assessments for the north/south road that will enable the Ring of Fire to be developed. https://bit.ly/2KJk0UA

In that news release, Marten Fall’s Chief Bruce Achneepineskum says, “This project is an opportunity to move forward on addressing many socio-economic needs of the community, including access to more affordable food and housing, access to training, education, health-care and employment and access to neighbouring communities.”

And again it must be clearly stated the the known Ring of Fire mineral discoveries and the proposed north/south road are on the traditional territories of Marten Falls and Webequie. There is some overlapping claims between these two communities but they are not letting that issue stand in the way of the proposed north/south road.

Ultimately, it will be up to both Eabametoong and Neskantaga, if they want their communities to be linked to the proposed north/south main road. Governments will not force them to be connected.

However, while we are not at this “tipping point” yet, the $60 billion question is should Eabametoong and Neskantaga have the right to force further delay or stop the north-south road development and ultimately the mine project if their demands – whatever they may be – are not met, even though their Aboriginal colleagues in Webequie and Marten Falls want to move forward as environmentally quickly as possible?

If a consensus is not possible federal and provincial governments and southern Ontario media need to understand that the two First Nations communities who are most impacted by the proposed road and mineral development – Marten Falls and Webequie – see these projects as the way to bring employment to their struggling impoverished communities and lower the cost of food, building material, fuel and other supplies once they are connected to the provincial highway system.

The additional maps in this posting that document the traditional territories of Eabametoong, Webequie, Martin Falls – Nabinamik and Neskantaga have not completed or are not doing a land use document – are all found at this link: https://www.ontario.ca/page/land-use-planning-process-far-north

Eabametoong FN (1,500 people) – Chief Harvey Yesno (elected June 2019) replacing former Chief Elizabeth Atlookan [Furtherest away from Ring of Fire and none of their traditional territories cover Ring of Fire or proposed north/south road] Eabametoong is preparing its land use planning document in conjunction with Mishkeegogamang. Their land use planning document refers to the Taashikaywin Area of Interest for Planning.

Webequie FN (850 people) – Chief Cornelius Wabasse [Closest FN to Ring of Fire and part of mining area and potential north/south road are on their traditional territories]

Nibinamik FN (400 people) – Chief Johnny Yellowhead [None of the Ring of Fire mineral district or the proposed north/south road are on this community’s traditional territory.]

Marten Falls FN (400 people) – Chief Bruce Achneepineskum (re-elected September 2019) [Most of the Ring of Fire found mineral deposits and the proposed north/south road are on the traditional territories of this community.

Neskantaga FN (250 people) – Chief Chris Moonias (elected 2019) replacing former Chief Wayne Moonias [None of the Ring of Fire mineral district or the proposed north/south road are on this community’s traditional territory.]

(These are general on-reserve population figures and each community has an off-reserve population as well.)

Eabametoong and Mishkeegogamang (Taashikaywin Area of Interest for Planning)

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