Comparison of Attawapiskat, Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations in Ring of Fire – by Stan Sudol ( – January 10, 2024)

This column first appeared on the website LAW360 Canada which gives news and analysis on legal developments including litigation filings, case settlements, verdicts, regulation, enforcement, legislation and corporate deals.

Columnists representing Attawapiskat, on Ontario’s James Bay coast – 500 kms north of Timmins – have recently written some op/ed pieces on the Ring of Fire. These columns that have left out some basic facts about the mineral-rich region, whose traditional territories the nickel/copper/chromite deposits are on, and previous industrial developments that might be considered inconvenient truths.

The Hudson Bay Lowlands is about the size of Norway and without a doubt plays a key role in capturing carbon emissions. Roughly 10, 000 people live in small First Nations communities like Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan or regional service towns like Moosonee and Churchill, Manitoba. During the 1930s, two railroads were constructed to Moosonee and Churchill, while their collective and cumulative impacts on the ecosystem was insignificant.

Starting in 2008, Attawapiskat allowed DeBeers to operate an open-pit diamond mine 90kms west of their community for 11 years. The company is currently winning awards for their peat-land restoration activities. While the mine’s economic impact was not as “transformational” as many wished, as it was a small-life deposit, about a hundred FNs members – most of whom relocated to road-accessed communities – found jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of supply service contracts flowed though Attawapiskat-based businesses.

However, the federal government’s failure to resolve two festering infrastructure issues at the time – the replacement of a contaminated school and drinking water problems – when DeBeers was producing some the highest value gemstones in the world left a lingering distrust in the community of both the mining sector and Ottawa. I believe water potable issues are still ongoing.

The federal and provincial governments have failed in providing strategic social, educational and community infrastructure in all the mineral-rich Ring of Fire and James Bay lowland FNs communities – as a sort of “down-payment” of resource prosperity to come.

Most analysts readily state that there is huge potential for many other larger, longer-life diamond mines in Attawapiskat’s traditional territories – that could provide well-paying jobs to all the James Bay FNs communities for generations to come – yet the current Chief and council do not currently support companies to do further exploration and advanced mine development activities.

The Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué diamond mines in the Northwest Territories are all larger, longer-life operations that have provided enormous economic benefits to surrounding FN communities, including thousands of high-paying jobs, training opportunities, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of supply and service business contracts and resource revenue, since the first mine began operations in 1998. Continued exploration for new diamond deposits continues with full Indigenous support.

And Botswanna, the second largest diamond producer in the world, has becoming one of the most prosperous countries in Africa with full government support of the industry. The DeBeers Victor mine, while small, was just the beginning of the huge potential for diamond mining in the James Bay lowlands!

The prosperity of the Cree communities of Eastmain, Wemindji and Chisasbi to Inuit populated Kuujjuaraapik and Umiujaq on Quebec’s James Bay coast – all of whom embrace sustainable resource development – is in sharp contrast to the poverty and high unemployment on the Ontario side.

The Ring of Fire is about 270 kms west of Attawapiskat and about 500 kms northeast of Thunder Bay. The vast majority of the current known mineral deposits are on the traditional territories of Webequie – the closest FN community, roughly 70 kms to the west – and Marten Falls to the south. Aboriginal communities have clearly defined reserve boundaries where no mineral exploration takes place. Surrounding these communities are much larger traditional territories that are partly based on trap lines, fishing and hunting areas, sacred sites, ancient burial grounds and other activities that community members have historically used.

Most First Nations elders clearly know where their traditional boundaries are and in some cases there are overlapping boundaries as in the Ring of Fire, however Webequie and Marten Falls agree to work closely together as the economic opportunities are so great. In addition, both Webequie and Marten Falls participated in extensive land-use planning exercises during the Wynne administration and on-line maps clearly show the extent of their traditional territories.

In fact, Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum recently stated in a Globe and Mail profile that he was born in 1965 in a trapper’s tent roughly 40kms from the Ring of Fire, delivered by his father!

Older maps of Attawapiskat’s traditional territory – before DeBeers closed their operations – show a smaller region of traditional territory that did not include the Ring of Fire’s current known mineral deposits. Subsequent new maps show expanded traditional territory boundaries that include these deposits.

With tens of millions of dollars – if not more – of resource revenues at stake, Marten Falls and Webequie will probably need to battle Attawapiskat in court some day to finally settle this jurisdictional issue.
There also seems to be an enormous amount environmental disinformation about exploration by Juno Corporation, the underground mine that is being proposed by Wyloo and the proposed north-south road connecting the isolated communities of Webequie and Marten Falls.

Eighty per cent of the road will be built on raised eskers – which are sands and gravels left behind by melting glaciers and contain no carbon absorbing peat. The remaining 20 percent of the road will be built over peatlands and use modern floating geo-textile and geogrid materials that rest on top of the muskeg allowing it to continue to store carbon. This technology has been successfully implemented in other Canadian jurisdictions.

Attawapiskat is a member of the Mushkegowuk Tribal council. Three other members of this council in the southern James Bay region include Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Moose Cree, along with Attawapiskat, are working on their own north-south road proposal to end their isolation.

Moose Cree FN has a terrific Impact Benefits agreement with the Detour Lake gold mine (owned by Agnico-Eagle) that employs many of their members, provides hundreds of millions worth of supply and service mining contracts with community businesses and tens of millions of dollars of resource royalties.

Wyloo is working hard to sustainably build their Eagle’s Nest nickel mine with very low environmental impacts. Tailings will be stored underground and all processed water will be recycled.

The actual mine disturbance is less than ONE square kilometre – that includes airstrip, supply storage and other surface buildings aside from the mineshaft – which will release about 0.046 Metric tonnes of carbon, according to the company. Wyloo estimates that $100 million a year will be dedicated to First Nations businesses and the life of the mine will be at least 20 years, though most feel that it will last much longer as the deposit is open at depth.

Juno Corp. is a private EV metals explorer that has become the largest land claims holder in the Ring of Fire. It believes the region is Canada’s most important new mining camp discovery since the legendary Sudbury Basin. Solidifying large blocks of land is a normal practice of junior explorers to ensure competitors do not take potentially valuable ground near possible discoveries.

The often-quoted figure, by environmentalists, of “450 million tonnes (plus) of CO2 emissions that allegedly will be released due to mining in Ring of Fire is based on developing 100 % of mining claims in the camp which is around 2,127 km2 (2022 statistics). Ninety-nine point nine, nine per cent of that land will never be developed.

During the initial mining boom around 2007, dozens of junior miners were exploring in the region and monitoring all their activities was a challenge. Having just two main land claims holders in the Ring of Fire vastly simplifies government oversight, which involves much stricter permitting requirements and controls in the district than other parts of the province, to reflect FNs concerns since the initial discovery.

Both Webequie and Marten Falls see the development of the road and sustainable mineral exploration and mine development as a key component of a more prosperous future for their communities and children who experience one of the highest child-suicide rates in the world.

Environmental concerns over low-impact exploration drilling and cumulative affects is nothing short of “hyper green propaganda” and “scare mongering” aimed at southern audiences who know little about mining. The standard drill core is the size of a pop can. The drilling platforms are roughly 30 feet by 30 feet. Care is taken to not cut trees, though is some cases this must be done. In a region the size of Norway, ENGO dystopian predictions of eco-system collapse are farcical.

The FN community of Kashechewan has 2,000 residents and is located about 90 kms south of Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast on the north side of the Albany River. The entire community will eventually be relocated a few kilometres from its present site due to yearly flooding issues. There will be considerable destruction of the peatlands for this move, however, it is for a worth while cause – as is low-impact exploration drilling to find the metals the world needs to stop global warming.

In addition, Canada’s vast boreal forest is also a significant carbon sink. And yet hundreds of towns and a wide variety of forestry, mining and other industrial activities, over the past century and a half – that have had a much larger cumulative affects than anything planned for the Hudson Bay lowlands – have not undermined this ecosystem. Anyone driving on northern highways are on constant alert for wayward moose and bear whose numbers have not been depleted!

To infer that the Hudson Bay lowlands cannot sustain two north-south roads being proposed by Webequie/Marten Falls and the Mushkeguwuk James Bay communities and the modest amount of sustainable mineral exploration and mine development with their enormous economic impacts and to help fight climate change is counter intuitive to the region, the country and the entire world.

A few years ago, an Aboriginal colleague of mine complained to me that both Marten Falls and Webequie were very supportive of Attawapiskat’s good fortune of having a diamond mine built on their traditional territory. Bitterly, that support was not returned. And furthermore, Debeers and Attawapiskat did not need the permission of all Treaty Nine members to build their diamond mine. Why are environmentalists insisting something different now? The first casualty of any war is the truth. And make no mistake, for environmental groups and economically impoverished Attawapiskat, this is total war.

The International Energy Agency has stated that the world needs 60 new nickel mines if we want to meet our reduced carbon emissions goals by 2030 – that is only SIX years away! There are 186 nickel mines in production at the present time. The Ring of Fire is an integral part of Canada’s contribution to ensure sustainably clean and green nickel helps decarbonize the North American auto sector. Its development will provide many jobs and much prosperity to the surrounding impoverished FNs communities and will be done in the most environmentally sensitive manner, under strict government supervision.

And the security of supply of this strategic material will ensure continued multi-billion-dollar investments in southern Ontario’s auto industry, the largest economic sector of the provincial economy!

Ironically, without new nickel deposits, our decarbonization efforts will fail and the ecological affects of rapid global warming, will impact the entire Husdon Bay lowlands, devastating caribou herds and Indigenous traditional ways of life, far more, than disrupting a miniscule portion of muskeg for Wyloo’s Eagle’s Nest mine.

And even if the companies were so lucky to discover an addition ten mines, their cumulative affects would still be insignificant due to the vast size and resilience of the Hudson Bay lowlands.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communication consultant, owner/editor of and has appeared many times on TVO’s The Agenda discussing Northern Ontario issues.