Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias says his community is moving forward its efforts to stop the Ring of Fire after the latest meeting with Ontario's mining minister.
Neskantaga First Nation is preparing for an extensive court battle over the Ring of Fire, following the latest failed meeting between the First Nation and the Ontario government.
Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias and Chief Sonny Gagnon of Aroland First Nation called for a pause of the Ring of Fire during a meeting with Ontario’s mining minister Rick Bartolucci on July 18, but Moonias said the government did not take the suggestion “too seriously.”
“The government is just going ahead with (with development) as if we’re nothing,” Moonias said. “It looks as if ‘yes’ has already been given from the First Nations, but we never did (give consent).”
Moonias and Gagnon argue that development of the Ring of Fire needs to stop in order for First Nations to establish plans for maximizing economic benefits and mitigating environmental risks.
A pause would also give First Nation communities time to get local people trained to work in mining, the chiefs argue.
According to Moonias, Bartolucci told the chiefs that work in the Ring of Fire has to happen at the same time as negotiations between Ontario and First Nations.
“There’s a question of how can we negotiate this process of government to government round table while there’s still things going on in the Ring of Fire?” Moonias said. “There has to be a pause, otherwise mining will already be underway and then we’ll have lost.”
Bartucci invited Moonias and Gagnon to the meeting. Matawa’s Ring of Fire coordinator Raymond Ferris was also in attendance.
Both Gagnon and Moonias took issue with the government’s approach to conducting consultation with individual communities in isolation of other First Nations. Gagnon called the current approach “a game to undermine cohesion between communities.”
Moonias said the government is adopting a flawed approach when it comes to First Nations consultation. He wants to see First Nations creating their own models for how development and environmental monitoring happens, and then work with Ontario to combine those models with the provincial systems. Instead, Moonias said the government is appointing bureaucrats to create the processes, and then consulting First Nations after the processes are in place.
“We have to sit down at the table, government to government,” Moonias said. “It has to be legislated that First Nations have decision making along with the government.”
Neskatanga has pledged to block Cliffs Natural Resources from building its transportation route to the Ring of Fire. Moonias previously said he was willing to die preventing a bridge being built over the Attawapiskat River.
The First Nation took its case to the Ontario Mining Commissioner earlier this month, in an attempt to have Neskantaga recognized as a landholder in the area.
During the court case, both Cliffs and Ontario acknowledged that Neskantaga was not consulted on the decision to go ahead with Cliffs’ proposed chromite mine and transportation corridor.
The Mining Commissioner is expected to make a decision in the case later this month.
Moonias said the Ontario Mining Commissioner is only one step in his First Nation’s attempt to block the Ring of Fire in the courts. Following the July 18 meeting, he said he plans to consult Neskantaga’s legal council to determine the next steps in the legal action.
He also called on other First Nations in the region and across the province and country to stand together on making Indigenous voices heard.
“There has to be a joint effort, including the National assembly and the Chiefs of Ontario,” Moonias said. “It has to happen like that or else we’ll just be talking away while the government picks one or two communities to get them to say yes.”