MAC: Mines and Communities

Ontario Could Get Burned by Flawed Ring of Fire Process

Published by MAC on 2012-05-22
Source: Statement, CBC News

The proposed "development" of a chromite deposit in northern Ontario has left indigenous First Nations  "betrayed", according to MiningWatch Canada.

Ontario Could Get Burned by Flawed Ring of Fire Process

MiningWatch Canada press release

9 May 2012

Ottawa - In paired press releases the Ontario Government and U.S. mining company Cliffs Natural Resources today announced plans to proceed with the next step in the development of a chromite deposit in the area dubbed the "Ring of Fire".

The remote area of northern Ontario and the various access routes to it are in the traditional territories of several Ojibway, Oji-Cree, and Cree First Nations.

The announcements confirmed earlier indications that Sudbury could be the location of a proposed ferrochrome processing facility and that Cliffs' proposed transportation corridor, known as the North-South Route could be developed to link the mine to the existing road and rail systems to the south. This transportation route is competing with another that would make greater use of existing roads and is being proposed by Noront Resources.

Each route has its supporters among various First Nations in the area. Northern municipalities and First Nations have also suggested alternative locations for the processing plant.

If the mineral resources of the Ring of Fire are to be developed, value added processing done in Ontario - in accordance with Section 91 of the Mining Act - is certainly in the best interest of the province. Value added processing of mined minerals can greatly increase employment and taxation opportunities.

We remain concerned, however, that Cliffs is only proposing to process half the volume of concentrated chromite at the Ontario ferrochrome facility. The other half would be shipped overseas for processing.

We are also deeply concerned that the Ontario government has indicated its support for the North-South Road Corridor when there has not yet been any public review process to examine social and environmental issues of the proposed developments and the free prior informed consent of affected First Nations has not been obtained.

The road is a major undertaking that has the potential for significant direct and cumulative environmental impacts and has serious implications for First Nations communities.

Endorsing the corridor at this time is a betrayal of commitments and expectations created by the government to pursue development in the Ring of Fire in a responsible manner.

In cooperation with First Nations and other NGOs, MiningWatch has been advocating for a regional review of the various proposed projects in the Ring of Fire through a federal-provincial Joint Review Panel. Key government agencies also recommended this approach but the federal and provincial governments have refused to adopt this recommendation.

The recommended process could inform provincial decisions on infrastructure and allow for a thorough review of potential cumulative impacts of the various alternatives.

Recognising that chromium is a toxic metal that has never been mined in Canada, MiningWatch has conducted a literature review of environmental and human health issues associated with mining and processing the metal. The complete literature review and three summary fact sheets are available on our website (

While today's press releases are very optimistic, it is important to recognise that this is just an announcement to proceed to the phase a completing a feasibility study of the project.

Moving forward, MiningWatch expects the Ontario Government to live up to its commitment for a responsible approach to development by:

 Additional Links:

Matawa First Nations

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency -

Discord over NW Ont. mine was avoidable, lawyer says

CBC News

16 May 2012 

An American company planning to invest $3.3 billion on a Northern Ontario mine and processing plant has waded into the latest front in a countrywide battle over environmental issues and aboriginal rights, a mining consultant says.

Lawyer and mining industry strategist Bill Gallagher said Ontario should have foreseen the confrontation brewing over land use in the province's mineral-rich Ring of Fire region in the James Bay Lowlands.

The province announced last week that it reached an agreement in principle with Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources to build a chromite mine in the area about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, a road there and a processing facility near Sudbury.

But lawyers for the Neskantaga First Nation say the province may have broken the law by signing deals with Cliffs before consulting First Nations. In a letter written last week, solicitor Gregory McDade exhorts the province to "take no further steps to support this project until full discussion has been held with northern First Nations."

Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias added that without thorough consultation on environmental and other issues, Cliffs would have to "kill me first" before accessing its mine site.

'Not going to happen in a hurry'

Gallagher said the looming conflict will be one of the first testing grounds for the federal government's contentious new streamlined environmental assessment process, which it announced in its budget in late March.

"Cliffs may have picked the wrong time," he said, because the development in the Ring of Fire is in all likelihood "not going to happen in a hurry."

He added that Ontario lags behind other provinces when it comes to recognizing native treaty rights. "Ontario just hasn't brought themselves into the modern-day approach in pushing forward without having their ducks lined up, simple as that."

The province "systematically plays it wrong" on aboriginal issues and has had "no real commitment with Northern First Nations," Gallagher said, speculating that the odds against Ontario winning a court case against First Nations over the Ring of Fire are 10 to 1.

Mining Watch Canada program coordinator Ramsey Hart agreed that the province is getting it all wrong, saying he understands the frustration when First Nations learn that the province has already made development deals and only then declares it wants to start talks.

"[It's like,] 'There's a major thing happening and we've pretty much decided where we're going with it, but we really want to listen to you and we really want to involve you in the decision-making process," Hart said.

Cliffs plans to start mining chromite, an ingredient in stainless steel, in the Ring of Fire area by the end of 2015. The Ring of Fire includes the largest chromite deposit ever discovered in North America.

With files from The Canadian Press

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