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Northwest First Nations decry Wyloo decision to site Ring of Fire mineral processor in Sudbury

Indigenous communities want consultation and consent before any Ring of Fire-related activity takes place
Ginoogaming Chief Sheri Taylor at the October 2021 groundbreaking ceremony for the Greenstone Gold Mine.

Two Indigenous First Nations in northwestern Ontario are sharply criticizing Ring of Fire mine developer Wyloo Canada for choosing Sudbury as the northeastern Ontario refining hub for its Eagle’s Nest nickel production.

At a May 29 news conference in the Nickel City, the company inked a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the City of Greater Sudbury, with the support of two area First Nations, to place a battery metals processing plant somewhere in the community.

Earlier this week, Aroland First Nation Chief Sonny Gagnon decried the Wyloo-Greater Sudbury MOU through a news release as a cart-before-the-horse move, calling it “shocking” that the mining company is pressing ahead with its strategy when there are real concerns that mining activity in the Ring of Fire will cause damage to the environment. 

Now Ginoogaming First Nation leadership are weighing in, arguing that they should have been consulted prior to the announcement in Sudbury.

A news release from Ginoogaming Chief Sheri Taylor and council, distributed through Matawa First Nations, said they are “grieved” by the Sudbury site decision, calling it “premature.”

The community said industry, government and “external First Nations” in the Sudbury area — namely Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and Wahnapitae First Nation — shouldn’t be signing agreements for a processing plant without getting the consent and endorsement of the Indigenous communities that would be directly impacted by mining in the Ring of Fire.

No land in Sudbury has yet been secured for the plant.

Wyloo Canada CEO Kristan Straub told Northern Ontario Business in an interview that it is still working on finalizing a site. Construction of a processing facility won’t start until its Eagle’s Nest mine is built and work on that isn’t anticipated to start until 2027.

Ginoogaming Chief Taylor was not made available for an interview, beyond her written remarks. Aroland Chief Gagnon did not respond to an interview request due to illness, according to Matawa First Nations.

Aroland is situated near a strategic crossroads of sorts for the Ring of Fire. The community is located near Nakina, at the southern terminus of the proposed north-south Ring of Fire road network. Mined material from the Far North mining sites would be trucked down to a transhipment point in the vicinity of Aroland, then reloaded onto rail cars for transport to a processing site. 

In the fall of 2019, Aroland and two conservation and environmental groups triggered Ottawa to launch a regional assessment of the Ring of Fire in February 2020. More than four years later, that process remains in the starting blocks as the draft terms of reference — the plan outlining the scope of work to be studied — has yet to be completed and signed off by Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault. 

Ginoogaming is located 40 kilometres east of Geraldton, site of the new Greenstone Gold Mine.

Back in 2021, Ginoogaming took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at the outset of construction for the open-pit mine, which has provided contracting and operational jobs for many in the area, including First Nations.

“This (Sudbury MOU signing) event is an indicator of the divide-and-conquer tactics of the colonial Ontario government and mining industry,” said the Ginoogaming release, “to find willing partners and manufacture the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous rights holders who have a sacred duty to protect the land, and economic rights to prosperity and opportunities in our communities.”

Both Aroland and Ginoogaming are members of the Matawa First Nations, a Thunder Bay-headquartered tribal council of nine remote and road-accessible communities in northwestern Ontario and the Far North area, including the Ring of Fire. Their territorial lands and treaty rights cover the prospective mineral belt.

Ginoogaming said it shares territory with Aroland in the area of a proposed road to the Ring of Fire.

Chief Taylor said in a statement, that in years past, forestry and mining have negatively altered the landscape and shut out their people from realizing any of the economic benefits from those activities.

“Ginoogaming First Nation will no longer allow our people to be exploited and missed opportunities to take place in our homelands,” said Taylor.

“The government needs to respect the true intent of the Treaty (No. 9) and each nation retains the right to our own decision-making processes.”

Ginoogaming leadership further accused the Ontario government of acting as an “economic facilitator” that is “relinquishing its Crown obligation” of protecting First Nations from being exploited and excluded from the benefits of industrial development.

Wyloo Canada was asked if the company felt compelled to advise the Matawa communities of this plant siting decision, and if the negative reaction would set back relations in consulting with the communities.

An emailed response of remarks attributed to Straub said: "We understand the importance of engaging and consulting with Indigenous communities, especially those whose traditional territory hosts our proposed projects. Our approach is built on collaboration and respect for Indigenous communities, and we are deeply committed to responsible and sustainable development practices.

"We reaffirm our commitment to transparency, accountability and meaningful engagement, and we respect the concerns brought forth by Aroland First Nation. During each phase of our studies, we have reached out to their leadership and look forward to continuing a dialogue with Aroland and other communities as we collaboratively ensure responsible development in the region.”

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