Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias has raised further issues over the Cliffs Natural Resources chromite mine project in the Ring of Fire.
Moonias sent a letter to Michael Gravelle, minister of Natural Resources, on May 17 stating he has learned that Cliffs and/or its wholly owned subsidiary Cliffs Chromite Ontario Inc. has applied for land use and other permits on provincial crown land to begin mobilizing for infrastructure development and commencement of construction, including the north-south access corridor to the Ring of Fire.
Moonias stated in the letter that Ontario cannot lawfully consider these applications without fulfilling its constitutional duty of consultation. The chief said that the granting of an easement, issuance of any kind of land use or other permits to Cliffs in support of its proposed developments would be a further breach of Ontario’s duty to consult.
Moonias had earlier stated in a May 11 letter to Rick Bartolucci, minister of Northern Development and Mines, that Ontario is in breach of its constitutional duty to consult with Neskantaga and other Aboriginal peoples regarding the Cliffs mine and infrastructure development in and to the Ring of Fire.
Moonias said his community would use every lawful means to oppose the north-south access corridor project, noting it would go through the heart of his community’s traditional territory.
“We are going to police the (Attawapiskat) river system,” Moonias said. “They are going to have to cross the Attawapiskat River, but they’re not crossing — that’s what we’re saying. We’ll use every means, if we have any legal rights in the legal system that I can use, I will do that, at the First Nation’s cost.”
Moonias said the province made their decision without adequate consultation with the community.
“There is no such thing as after the fact in consultation,” Moonias said. “Consultation happens before you go into somebody’s back yard. It wouldn’t be lawful for me to go and start digging in your back yard without letting you know first, and tell you, ‘I’ll talk to you after.’”
Bartolucci said the provincial government is committed to ensuring their duty to consult is met throughout the Ring of Fire development, noting they have had several discussions with First Nations communities and are committed to ongoing dialogue.
Meanwhile, during the May 15-17 NAN Spring Chiefs Assembly in Cochrane, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation chiefs invited Premier Dalton McGuinty and the provincial cabinet to the upcoming Keewaywin Conference to begin real engagement on lands and resources, resource revenue sharing, and free, prior and informed consent.
The May 17 invitation was issued after the chiefs refused to participate in McGuinty’s 7th annual First Nations meeting with First Nation groups from across the province.
“We will not meet with the premier and talk about our issues in the allotted time frame,” said Grand Chief Stan Beardy.
The upcoming Keewaywin Conference is scheduled for Aug. 14-16 in Kashechewan.
In response to questions from NDP leader Andrea Horvath in the Ontario legislature, McGuinty said the provincial government takes its responsibilities very seriously when it comes to consulting with First Nations partners.
“We understand there is legal obligation there, but we also feel a sense of responsibility, on behalf of all Ontarians, to make sure that we are working with our First Nations partners, especially when it comes to exciting new opportunities to be found in the Ring of Fire,” McGuinty said. “I know that specific efforts were made to reach out to those communities in the past. We will continue to find ways to move forward.”
Kathleen Wynne, minister of Aboriginal Affairs, said the provincial government is determined to work in partnership with First Nations, companies and the federal government to make sure First Nations people benefit from the development of the Ring of Fire.
“We want to make sure all the voices are at the table, because from my perspective, this really is about (how) the First Nation children, the next generation and the generation after that can reap the benefits of this development,” Wynne said. “So whether that means the specific jobs that come from the mine, or whether that means the training and skills development, or whether it’s the environmental monitoring that will take place, all of that is part of the conversation.”
Wynne said the provincial government wants to work with First Nation communities, in conjunction with the federal government, to make sure First Nation students both on and off-reserve have an equal opportunity for their education and postsecondary opportunities.
Wynne said the provincial government is now looking to engage First Nations in a formal process to discuss environmental monitoring, resource revenue sharing, training and skills development and social supports.
“There are lots of infrastructure conversations that are going to have to happen,” Wynne said, noting roads and electricity transmission lines. “But we can’t have those conversations unless we have everyone at the table.”
An Ontario environmental group also condemned the decision to build the north-south access road through a largely intact area in the James Bay Lowlands, which includes crossings of at least three major rivers and multiple streams.
“It is the epitome of bad development,” said Anna Baggio, conservation director with CPAWS Wildlands League. “It’s like we’ve stepped back in time and ignored everything that we’ve learned over the last 40 years.”
Moonias said he is willing to give up his life to defend his community’s interests on the land, both environmentally and for their livelihood.
“That’s all I got left to do,” Moonias said. “I’m willing to lose my life over it. I’m going to defend it (the land) as far as I can.”
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