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Leaders threaten to pull support for Ring of Fire

Thursday May 17, 2012
Lenny Carpenter/Wawatay News
NAN Deputy Chief Terry Waboose confronts Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne (front left) and Minstry of Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle (front right) following the May 9 announcement that Cliffs Resources plans to locate its chromite processing plant in Sudbury.

First Nation leaders are threatening to pull support for mining in the Ring of Fire, after Cliffs Resources’ announced it plans to locate its chromite processing plant in Sudbury.

Cliffs announced on May 9 that the mining company will go ahead with the $3.3 billion Ring of Fire project, which includes the chromite mine east of Webequie, a transportation route running south from the mine site to connect to highway 17 near Aroland, and a ferrochrome processing plant in Sudbury.

The decision goes against the wishes of First Nations and municipal leaders in northwestern Ontario, who wanted to see the processing plant located in Greenstone.

“It’s obvious the province and Cliffs haven’t been listening to First Nations, and what their concerns and their aspirations are,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Terry Waboose. “Today is a classic example of development going ahead without adequate consultation, input and consent from our First Nations.”

Waboose said he will advise the chiefs of the area to look at reevaluating their support for mining in the region.

“Sure, you can have a smelter in Sudbury, but you still have to have a mine out there. And that’s something we all have to think about,” Waboose said. “I see (the announcement) as a step backwards. We need to get back and have some real discussions and real commitments from the province as well as from the company.”

Ontario’s minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Kathleen Wynne, held a press conference in Thunder Bay on the day of Cliff’s announcement. Wynne took the opportunity to encourage First Nations to come to the table and work with the province on ensuring future benefits for Aboriginal people.

“The decisions that have been made were the business decisions,” Wynne said. “The more formal conversations and consultations will now begin. Those engagements on the environmental issues, the engagements on the community supports, those have not been finalized.

“We need your best advice and your engagement on how do we make sure the training is in place, how do we make sure the upgrading is in place so people who want to participate can,” she added.

Wynne said the next step is to start tri-partite discussions between First Nations, the provincial government and the federal government on training and education programs to get First Nations people ready to work in the Ring of Fire.

Following the announcement, Webequie First Nation issued a statement saying it agrees that all parties must work together on a cooperative framework.

Webequie also stated that it will continue to pursue assurances from government and industry for a utility corridor to connect First Nations to southern infrastructure networks.

But Marten Falls First Nation Chief Eli Moonias said Cliffs’ announcement confirmed what his community feared – that the road network proposed for the mine will not connect to Marten Falls.

“Cliffs wants to build this corridor through the proposed railway survey done by KWG Resources,” Moonias said. “That’s 50 miles upriver from us. The corridor is not going to provide access for us.” Moonias said his community believed that if they were able to get Greenstone and other First Nations on their side, it would help get their community connected to the road network.

“Cliffs does what Cliffs wants to do,” Moonias said. “They don’t want to accommodate anybody, unless it doesn’t cost them a penny. Even Ontario does not dictate to them. They also do what the big company wants.”

Moonias said he will hold community discussions to determine whether Marten Falls still supports the mining projects in the Ring of Fire.

As for Waboose, he said First Nations leaders have to step back and evaluate what the Cliffs announcement means for future work between the province, industry and First Nations.

He added the issues go deeper than the Cliffs project, and strike at some of the big problems with development in the North in general.

“We need to talk about resource revenue sharing,” Waboose said. “ We need to talk about recognition of our jurisdiction up there. It is our land and we have a say in terms of what happens there, not just someone in Toronto giving permits and issuing licenses to developers without our permission and our consent.”

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