Editorial: Consult first, break ground later
Consult first, break ground later – Consultation with First Nations key to Ring of Fire development
October 2, 2017 - Canada is one of the most resource rich countries in the world. From freshwater lakes to agriculture, oil and gas, potash, gold and diamonds, the list goes on and on.
Until recent years, some of those resources have been considered too costly to obtain – those located in remote areas with little or no access to markets. But after the Ontario Liberal government committed to a $1 billion investment to develop the Ring of Fire in 2014 in northern Ontario, which is estimated to have between $30 billion and $60 billion worth of chromite, nickel, copper and platinum, serious infrastructure development was beginning to look like a reality for the region.
But here we are nearing the end of 2017, and no roads have been built and little progress had been made, something the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP have pointed out to the Liberal government. But in August, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne countered criticisms related to the lack of progress by announcing that the province is working with three of the nine Matawa-member First Nations in the region — Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik – to build year-round road access into a proposed mining development site pursued by Noront Resources Ltd. Environmental assessments for the project will be started by each community by January 2018 with an expected construction start date of 2019.
Progress, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
The same day the province made the announcement of the agreement, First Nations leaders of Eabametoong and Neskantaga First Nations responded by stating that they considered the announcement “premature” and that the road construction project being planned crossed the rivers and lands of Neskantaga and Eabametoong.
Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias was very clear about his stance on the announcement, stating, “The reality is that all the roads to the Ring of Fire traverse the territory of our Nations, and nothing is happening without the free, prior, and informed consent of our First Nations.”
Eabametoong Chief Liz Atlookan also expressed disapproval, stating, “I am disappointed to see an announcement by the Wynne government about building roads in our territories when there is no community approval of a proposed agreement recognizing the inherent rights and treaty rights of First Nations over territories.”
Premier Wynne’s divisive approach to working with First Nations communities could backfire and throw a wrench into development plans for the region.
Think of the development of the Ring of Fire the same way you would think about tackling a complex puzzle. Before devoting the time and effort into building a 1,000-piece puzzle (and we may find that the Ring of Fire development has about that many pieces), you might want to make sure all of the pieces are in the box? After all, why start a project if there were no way to complete it? That just seems like a waste of time and energy.
Perhaps Wynne’s government felt agreements with individual First Nations were more feasible on such complex resource development projects, and maybe they are. But don’t pop the champagne bottle until you’ve got all the agreements in place.
Hopefully the Ontario Liberals' plan is to iron out agreements with all affected First Nations communities before construction starts in 2019.
Otherwise, I suspect any construction projects around the Ring of Fire will encounter delays and stoppages due to fierce protests, and the region’s economic potential may never be realized.
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