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First Nations consent and environmental impact dominate concerns at Ring of Fire demonstration on Ramsey Lake Road

Traffic stopped for approximately 3 minutes at three-hour long protest

The three-hour long demonstration that took place at the intersection leading to Sudbury's university campuses on Ramsey Lake Road stopped traffic for just three minutes. 

Two round dances were scheduled to take place. One at 10 a.m. and another at 11 a.m.; only the 11 a.m. round dance occurred. Greater Sudbury Police Services was present at that time to direct right-turning traffic and to ensure the safety of those who participated. Left-turning traffic was not able to proceed. 

Organizer Bruce McComber said that he's been a part of a broad network of activists, scientists and environmentalists for almost ten years. According to him, that network has been trying to force the government and corporations to provide more thorough environmental assessments and pay better taxes, among other things. For him, opposition to the project includes acknowledgement of issues that precede development. 

“There's a number of underlying issues, ongoing, for example the lack of clean drinking water, all the drinking-water advisories, another thing is the under-funding or the lack of implementation of Jordan's Principle, things of that nature,” McComber said.  “So while those things remain unaddressed by governments and corporate sector it seems a little silly to forge ahead with the project in this specific context.” 

“There are First Nations in the specific area that are supposedly the eight community stakeholders that are having suicide crises and actively opposing the project, saying that the government is being secretive, et cetera, et cetera. So it's the same old business in the corporate sector. This is our small part in the overall effort to stop the mining and other related work in the region.” 

The eight communities McComber refers to here are actually nine in number. These are the Webequie, Marten Falls and Neskantaga First Nations, which are closest to the Ring of Fire, and Nibinamik, Aroland, Long Lake 58, Ginoogaming, Eabametoong, and the Constance Lake First Nations. Eight of these communities are within Treaty 9 territory; Long Lake 58 is within Robinson-Superior treaty territory. They are represented politically by Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Matawa Chiefs council.

No members of those nations were present at the demonstration. Approximately 13 people attended and the concerns expressed were varied. 

Laurentian University student Marissa Wemigwans said that the issue of free, prior and informed consent dominated reservations about development projects in general. 

“Our voices are not being – it's not that they're not being heard, but that they're not being respected. Anybody can say, 'Ok, we've gone and talked to the First Nations, we've gone and we've made a deal with them and we've listened to their concerns so we can now check off a box and say, 'That's our duty to consult.'’ Even if they didn't get an agreement, they can check off the box and that's all they need. They heard them, but they didn't listen,” Wemigwans said. 

According to Greg Rickford, Ontario's Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister of Indigenous Affairs Ontario told Northern Ontario Business that Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation have entered into voluntary agreements with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The agreements involve undertaking environmental assessments for access roads from Webequie to the Ring of Fire area, and for Marten Falls to connect to the provincial highway network.

Negotiations between the province and First Nations began in 2013 under chief negotiator Frank Icobucci who is said to have resigned from that post this week. 

Mining resource revenue sharing agreements were entered under the Wynne government and mid-August, newly re-elected NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he would be committed to ensuring that the new Ontario government honours those existing agreements.   

During his election campaign, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would bring development to the Ring of Fire “if I have to hop on that bulldozer myself.

“It doesn't sound like there has been any type of consent, and that's why we're here today,” Wemigwans said.  

The impact that the Ring of Fire may have on the land and water and in turn, on future generations, is something Anishinaabekwe (Anishinaabe woman) Marina McComber feels people are sometimes too busy to contemplate. “I think we need to reconnect with our spirit. That's going to help us to reconnect with creation, with Mother Earth, with all of the animals.” McComber said. “With our own healing, we will impact the healing of Mother Earth.”


Allana McDougall

About the Author: Allana McDougall

Allana McDougall is a new media reporter at Northern Life.
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