Excerpt from Ring of Fire: High-Stakes Mining in a Lowlands Wilderness – by Virginia Heffernan (April 6, 2023)

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A valuable discovery under the world’s second-largest temperate wetland and in the traditional lands of the Cree and Ojibway casts light on the growing conflict among resource development, environmental stewardship, and Indigenous rights

When prospectors discovered a gigantic crescent of metal deposits under the James Bay Lowlands of northern Canada in 2007, the find touched off a mining rush, lured a major American company to spend fortunes in the remote swamp, and forced politicians to confront their legal duty to consult Indigenous Peoples about development on their traditional territories. But the multibillion-dollar Ring of Fire was all but abandoned when stakeholders failed to reach a consensus on how to develop the cache despite years of negotiations and hundreds of millions of dollars in spending. Now plans for an all-weather road to connect the region to the highway network are reigniting the fireworks.

In this colorful tale, Virginia Heffernan draws on her bush and newsroom experiences to illustrate the complexities of resource development at a time when Indigenous rights are becoming enshrined globally. Ultimately, Heffernan strikes a hopeful note: the Ring of Fire presents an opportunity for Canada to leave behind centuries of plunder and set the global standard for responsible development of minerals critical to the green energy revolution.

EXCERPT: Ring of Fire – Transformative Changes For First Nations Embracing Mining Development – by Virginia Heffernan

If you journey north from the coastal communities of Moose Factory and Attawapiskat, hugging the curvaceous eastern shoreline of James and then Hudson Bay, you eventually reach the inlet that leads to the hamlet of Baker Lake in Nunavut. It’s the geographic centre of Canada. Baker Lake has been transformed by gold mining over the past decade.

Traditionally, the Inuit community relied on the whims of migrating caribou for sustenance. Some years, residents went hungry. There were few employment opportunities other than government jobs. But since Agnico Eagle Mines opened the Meadowbank gold mine nearby in 2010, two cars have appeared in the driveways of many Inuit homes, for better or worse. Residents have money in the bank.

In 2021 Agnico Eagle earned a spot on Corporate Knights’ list of the top 100 most sustainable corporations in the world, mainly for the company’s efforts at its gold mines on Inuit territory including Meadowbank, Meliadine, and Amaruq. Agnico is aiming for 100 percent Inuit employment at the mines. Education and training of the local workforce is a big part of that goal. Community development is another, including a pool of funds to support community projects.

So in early 2021 when Agnico purchased the Hope Bay gold project further north, near Cambridge Bay, with the intention of developing yet another gold mine, it drew cheers from the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA), which worked with Agnico Eagle to establish and maintain good community relations.

“The KIA recognizes Agnico Eagle Mines as a global leader in the gold mining business and we are excited about what this will mean for all Inuit in Nunavut and especially for our regional counterparts in the Kitikmeot,” said the Kivalliq association’s president, Kono Tattuinee, in
a release.

But not everyone was applauding. The noise and disruption from Agnico’s Meadowbank mine drove the caribou away, some say, and hunters must go further afield to access the animals.


It’s 2012 in the Stikine Valley of northwestern British Columbia, also known as the “Serengeti of North America,” territory of the Tahltan Nation. Award-winning filmmaker Nettie Wild is shooting the hydro line construction for Koneline: Our Land Beautiful. The line runs 344 kilometres north from Terrace, B.C., into a remote area rich in minerals.


But in B.C.’s Stikine Valley, nothing gets done without the approval of the powerful Tahltan Nation. Tahltan territory covers 95,500 square kilometres, about the size of Portugal, or 11 percent of British Columbia plus a sliver of the Yukon. The area includes 5,000 people in two bands: the Tahltan Indian Band, headquartered in Telegraph Creek, and the Iskut First Nation, headquartered in Iskut.

About 50 percent of the mineral exploration that takes place in B.C. happens on Tahltan land. Mining stretches back to 1861, when gold was discovered in the Stikine River. Swarms of prospectors followed. Mines were built. But until recently, the Indigenous residents were largely ignored, despite a 1910 declaration by the Nation stipulating that those who wished to do business in Tahltan territory would be required to work with the Nation and show respect for its citizens, territory, and rights.

By the late 1980s, mining activity was booming as a result of the Eskay Creek discovery, which had touched off a gold rush. Money raised on the now-defunct Vancouver Stock Exchange was pouring into the region. By contrast, the Tahltan Nation was suffering. About 80 percent of its members were unemployed and many were lost in drug and alcohol addiction. Suicide rates were high and education standards low.

Enter former Chief Jerry Asp, the same man who smuggled Kentucky Fried Chicken into Webequie when he was helping First Nations negotiate in the Ring of Fire. Recognizing that jobs and training would boost prosperity for his people, Asp founded the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) in 1985. It’s now one of the most successful Indigenous-owned businesses in Canada. TNDC has contributed to mine construction, catering, and road building for the Golden Bear, Eskay Creek, and Galore Creek projects and the Red Chris mine.

And to the construction of the northwest transmission line featured in Wild’s film. For his efforts, Asp was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. Four years later, he received the Indspire Award in Business and Commerce, the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows on its own achievers. He was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 2020.

Now any Tahltan member who wants a job has one. Most jobs are well paid and highly skilled. Training programs abound for those who want to change or advance in their careers.


Six years later, in 2020, Day speaks to a packed lecture hall at the PDAC convention in Toronto. The TNDC has closed C$3 billion in deals with industry over the past decade and the Tahltan have become an even more powerful entity. The new majority owner of the Red Chris mine, Australia’s Newcrest Mining, is spending C$43 million on contracts with Tahltan businesses in the 2020 fiscal year alone. About half of Newcrest’s apprentices at Red Chris hail from the Nation.

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