MAC: Mines and Communities

The Wild West in Ontario's Ring of Fire

Published by MAC on 2010-01-31
Source: TB Newswatch & others

Indigenous groups raise strong doubts about reforms

Ontario is Canada's leading mining jurisdiction; it has recently undertaken substantive reforms to the way mineral-rich lands are administered, especially in the province's remote far north.

Although these reforms would bring about substantial improvements, they have yet to be implemented. Meanwhile, even as the "i"s are being dotted and "t"s crossed on the new regulations, a major mineral play and exploration boom is occurring in an area known as the Ring of Fire. This territory has overlapping interests with several Indigenous First Nations.

Some of the communites are already involved in mining activity, but all have concerns about how the developments are proceeding, doubts as to whether they will gain any significant benefits from them, and fears about environmental impacts.

The targeted region borders the Hudson Bay Lowlands, one of the worlds largest wetlands, with large expanses of intact boreal forest, and which comprise the headwaters of two major rivers flowing into James Bay.

Given the ecological significance of the area, environmental groups share the concerns of the First Nations. Over the next year or so, many eyes will be focussed on this Ring of Fire, endeavouring to discover how the new approaches are implemented and whether they will succeed in reducing social conflicts and environmental impacts.

See previous posting on MAC:

Desire for dialogue

By Jamie Smith,

21 January 2010

Mike, a young Marten Falls man, chopped wood, built camps and hauled supplies to the eastern shore of Koper Lake late into Tuesday night in hopes that he'll one day get a job.

Mike is one of 15 people from six First Nation communities who set up a blockade in the ring of fire - a mineral rich patch of land 128 kilometres north of Marten Falls. The blockade is expected to remain until the government and mining companies sit down with First Nation people to discuss plans for the area.

Marten Falls chief Eli Monnias said employment opportunities for his community in the future mining sector is just one of the issues he wants to discuss with Freewest, Biliken and Matrix. Until then, protestors who have set up camp on the ice landing strips in the area will block access to the mining camps.

"We plan to stay here until our request for a forum to discuss issues is established," said Moonias. "A room somewhere in a place with a table in it. Me and my colleague from Webequie we sit down, the other sit down on the other side. Are they going to talk to us seriously with our issues here and try to resolve them? If they say they will we'll move on from there."

Webequie chief Cornelius Wabaesse said the ring of fire has always been part of his and other northern communities' traditional lands. He said consultation from exploration companies and the government overlooked First Nation communities in the area.

"My community members are not opposed to development but they need to be included in any development that's in traditional territories," Wabaesse said. "We have been on this land since time immemorial we would like to be part of its benefits."

Wabaesse and Moonias said they want people from their communities, who live among high unemployment and poverty rates, to be trained and employed by the mining companies as activity picks up.

Freewest found one of the largest chromite deposits in the world, which could bring up to 300 jobs to all of Northern Ontario once mining begins. Both chiefs say they would like to see training facilities built closer to home so their members will have the necessary skills to work in the mining industry.

Wabaesse said a lot of his community is undereducated because they can't leave their homes to go to urban centres such as Thunder Bay to go to school.

"What we want to do is own the camps then we employ the people," said Moonias. "If people are working getting up in the morning and knowing that they have a job that's what everybody wants."

Another concern for Moonias is the proposed corridor to access the upcoming minerals that the chief said has been staked by the companies already. Moonias said First Nation communities have been working on a corridor along the Albany River to access the area for 10 years.

If the mining companies build an access road, a decade's worth of work from those communities would be in vain because the companies' have been staking in another location.

"Our road is not going to happen because government and environmental people will only allow one corridor," said Moonias. " We want the corridor to come through our area so we can get that access road."

Environmental concerns have also been an issue in the area. From sinking oil drums and equipment to dumping grey water into nearby McFaulds Lake, Moonias said the First Nation communities need their own full-time environmental observer to watch the activities of the companies.

Moonias added that over the past seven years, explorers have been poaching fish and game from the area without permission.

"They have done outrageous acts here," said Moonias. "Just yesterday we learned they are trying to build a (landing) strip."

Moonias said it's illegal under the Mining Act to build permanent structures such as airstrips while exploring.

Chiefs rally behind exploration protest

CARL CLUTCHEY, Thunder Bay Chronicle

20 January 2010

District media organizations are to get a first-hand look today at a series of protests being staged by remote native groups near a potentially huge chromite deposit about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay-based Nishnawbe-Aski Nation is chartering a plane to take reporters to Marten Falls First Nation - the community leading the protest - and possibly to Ring of Fire exploration sites at Kopper and McFaulds lakes.

Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias said he‘s frustrated that exploration companies working in the area are not using the band‘s air strip or winter access road.

Ontario Provincial Police officers are monitoring the situation but Thunder Bay Sgt. Shelley Garr said the OPP doesn‘t plan to have any officers at the protests.

Meanwhile, other area chiefs rallied behind Moonias on Tuesday.

"These conflicts will continue to arise if First Nations are not given an equal opportunity to benefit from businesses and meaningful jobs," Aroland First Nation Chief Sonny Gagnon said in a news release.

Toronto-based Noront Resources, one of the main Ring of Fire exploration companies, said the protests shouldn‘t "limit or otherwise disrupt our ability to continue active work programs in the area."

Noront CEO Wes Hanson said he contacted Moonias about the protest.

"While we consider the denial of service at Kopper Lake to be unfair to Noront, we will abide by the denial of service,‘‘ Hanson said in a news release.

The Ring of Fire project is touted as one of the world‘s largest deposits of chromite, a key ingredient in the production of stainless steel.

If developed, an operating mine could mean thousands of jobs when on-site mining production, the construction of a 300-kilometre short line and support services are factored in.

Noront said "it has been (company) policy from the beginning to actively work with and communicate with the First Nations communities impacted by the company‘s exploration activity in the Ring of Fire."

Ring of Fire in the Far North

By David Euler,

29 December 2009

Over the past two years, there has been a surge in mining claims staked throughout Ontario. The mining boom has even expanded into the James Bay Lowlands region, where more than 2,000 claims were hurriedly staked in the six months following the 2007 provincial election when the Liberal government declared it would re-visit The Mining Act. Unbeknownst to most Ontarians, there has recently been an escalation in the flurry of mining activity in the Far North in an area known as the Ring of Fire some 240 kilometres west of James Bay and north of the Albany River, shattering once pristine habitat.

While the southern boreal forest is severely fragmented, the landscape crisscrossed by roads and cleared for industrial activity, the northern boreal is supposed to be ecologically intact. Moreover, Premier Dalton McGuinty declared in 2008 that at least half of this precious land mass and enormous carbon storehouse would be protected while land-use planning that emphasized sustainable development would guide the future use of the other half.

Indeed, Ontario's northern boreal region represents one of the last intact, original forests remaining on the planet. Beyond the northern reaches of the forest lies tundra, which supports one of the earth's largest, continuous wetlands, and through which half of Canada's largest dozen rivers drain.

This fall, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., a major U.S. mining company, announced plans to join the frenzy in the Ring of Fire and invest $800 million to build an open-pit mine and facilities to process chromite into ferrochrome, a key ingredient to make stainless steel. Meanwhile, Canada Chrome, a subsidiary of KWG Resources Inc., holds claims in the eastern side of the Ring of Fire and has announced its intention to develop a 200-kilometre rail corridor. Noront Resources Ltd. is ramping up plans for full-scale development that includes building an air strip.

None of these massive projects is subject to a full environmental assessment. Instead, staking, exploration and plans to build infrastructure is proceeding apace without any apparent government oversight. This is in flagrant contravention of the Premier's promise to protect this region; there is no public consultation; First Nations communities are not leading the decision making process and there is no acknowledgment of the ecological importance of this remarkable region.

In Ontario, the provincial government made a choice when it announced it would protect the northern boreal region. Now it is time to make good on its promise. David Euler

President, Sault Naturalists

Ontario Nature Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 140 member groups across Ontario.

A "Free for All" as Mining Claims More than Double in Carbon-rich Ecosystem

MiningWatch Canada

14 December 2009

Public Interest Groups Call for Land Withdrawals to Ease Pressure

TORONTO - A rapid increase in exploratory mining activities, including staking, drilling and clearance of vegetation in the heart of Ontario's northern Boreal Forest, one of the world's most carbon-rich ecosystems, has become a "Wild West" free for all, warn public interest groups. CPAWS Wildlands League, Ecojustice and Mining Watch Canada are concerned that development in an area known in the industry as the ‘Ring of Fire' in Ontario's Far North is exploding due to inadequate control under an antiquated Mining Act. The groups have learned that in the last two years the number of active mining claims has more than doubled in Ontario's Far North. As of December, there are over 8,200 claims, compared to 4,000 in October of 2007. "Right now, mining activities are superseding the protection of ecological and cultural values. There is very little government oversight, no environmental assessment process, and no mechanism for First Nation control," says Anna Baggio of CPAWS Wildlands League. The groups are worried that because claims and leases will be grandfathered into any land use planning processes, local First Nations communities will have little room to manoeuvre. They are also concerned that efforts to protect globally significant, carbon rich bogs and forests, intact watersheds and endangered species' habitat will be undermined. The ‘Ring of Fire' is considered one of the largest potential mineral reserves in Ontario located 240 km west of James Bay. By some estimates, it covers more than 1.5 million ha. Over 35 junior and intermediate mining and exploration companies are now active here, making it the recent hotbed of Wild West mining activity in the Far North.

The groups are concerned that the mining exploration activities are causing the following problems:

"We are hearing reports of 200 fuel drums sinking into the wetlands because they were placed clumsily on bog mats. Who will be responsible for cleaning up and restoring these lakes and wetlands?" adds Baggio.

"There is a complete lack of legal rules guiding activity in the Ring of Fire," said Ecojustice Staff Lawyer Justin Duncan. "First Nations need to lead land use planning over the whole area and rules need to be established to manage development, otherwise the heart of Ontario's northern boreal could be severely impacted and First Nations will bear the brunt of any long-term harm."

MiningWatch Canada's, Program Coordinator, Ramsey Hart says that "the impact of mining activity in this region will have a legacy that will last hundreds of years into the future and there is the potential for irrevocable harm. We have this opportunity, at this juncture, to do it right, with proper planning, environmental controls, and consent and accommodation of First Nations. This is an opportunity we can't afford to lose".

The groups want Ontario to immediately withdraw lands in the watersheds affected by the Ring of Fire exploration projects (outside of the areas already ‘claimed') so that First Nations can work with the government to create a coordinated, regional land use plan and gain control over the implementation of industrial activities. This would minimize negative environmental impacts, protect the public interest, help prevent conflicts and ensure meaningful long term benefits to the people that live there, the groups add.


For further information please contact:
Anna Baggio, Director Conservation Land Use Planning, Wildlands League (416) 453-3285
Justin Duncan, Staff Lawyer, Ecojustice (416) 368-7533, ext.22
Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada (613) 569-3439

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