Chief Moonias vows to oppose Cliffs at all costs
Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias burst into the national media’s attention in the spring when he announced to the world that he would stop a bridge to the Ring of Fire from being built over the Attawapiskat River, by any means possible.
“They’re going to have to cross that river, and I told them if they want to cross that river, they’re going to have to kill me first. That’s how strongly I feel about my people’s rights here,” Moonias said in May.
Since then Neskantaga has become a thorn in the side of Cliffs Natural Resources, the mining giant that Moonias has pegged an “American mining bully.”
Moonias’ efforts have brought international attention to the First Nations fight to be consulted and accommodated on what may be the biggest development ever in northern Ontario.
For those efforts he has earned Wawatay’s male newsmaker of the year.
The First Nation is making true its claim to use any means possible to oppose the Ring of Fire until proper consultation gets completed.
In May the chief sent a series of letters to the Ontario government, demanding consultation and expressing his concerns over Cliffs’ announcement that it was going ahead with its Ring of Fire chromite mine, along with a north-south highway and a smelter in Sudbury.
As Moonias pointed out, Ontario was helping push Cliffs’ mine along without having completed any consultations with First Nations, as the province is obligated to under law.
“There is no such thing as after the fact consultation,” Moonias said. “Consulation happens before you go into somebody’s backyard.”
Moonias and his Aroland counterpart Sonny Gagnon took their call for a Ring of Fire slowdown to mining minister Rick Bartolucci in July, demanding that the government put a pause on the development to allow time for proper consultation to happen. That suggestion was ignored by Bartolucci.
“The government is just going ahead as if we’re nothing,” Moonias said at the time. “It looks as if ‘yes’ has already been given from the First Nations, but we never did give consent.”
In the summer Neskantaga upped its efforts, announcing it would use a little known mining court to try and get its voice heard.
The case brought to Ontario’s mining commissioner asked for the First Nation to be named a party in a claims dispute between Cliffs and KWG Resources. Neskantaga argued that it was the original landowner, and subsequent mining claims issued by the government to the companies could not be sold or given away without acknowledging the First Nation’s title.
While its mining commissioner court case ended with the commissioner ruling against Neskantaga, the First Nation did manage to extract an admission from both Cliffs and Ontario that neither of them had consulted with Neskantaga before announcing the mine project.
But Moonias was not done there. While vowing to continue using the courts to block Cliffs’ Ring of Fire project, the chief turned his attention to the Environmental Assessment (EA) portion of the mine.
First Neskantaga submitted responses to the Cliffs EA, essentially calling the process inadequate as it failed to consult First Nations in a meaningful way.
Then Moonias requested that Ontario’s environment minister send the EA to a mediator to deal with the dispute between Neskantaga and Cliffs.
As the year came to a close, Neskantaga’s request for mediation was still outstanding. So was the First Nation’s threat of more legal action against Cliffs and Ontario.
And behind it all was the declaration that kick-started Neskantaga’s opposition to the Cliffs
project and the transportation corridor. Moonias has repeated throughout the year that he was serious when he said his community will police the Attawapiskat River, that it will block any attempts to build a bridge over the river, and that he is prepared to die on the river if it came to that.
Moonias told Wawatay in the spring that his community is serious when it says something.
His actions throughout the year back up his claim.
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