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First Nations fuming over smelter decision

While Sudbury celebrates news that Cliffs Natural Resources is building its ferrochrome smelter in Capreol , some First Nations in northwestern Ontario are escalating their war of words with Cliffs and the province.
Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, talks with Wahnapitae First Nation Chief Myles Tyson, who expect a positive outcome from Cliffs Natural Resources building its ferrochrome smelter near Capreol. Other First Nations aren't so happy with the decision. Photo by Arron Pickard.
While Sudbury celebrates news that Cliffs Natural Resources is building its ferrochrome smelter in Capreol, some First Nations in northwestern Ontario are escalating their war of words with Cliffs and the province.

Two First Nations near the development, located near Greenstone, an amalgamated rural municipality of seven communities northeast of Thunder Bay, issued a press release opposing the decision at the same time as Bill Boor, Cliffs’ senior vice-president of global ferroalloys, was on a conference call with reporters announcing the decision.

The chiefs claim the province asked for a last-minute meeting to find out if there were any circumstances under which they would support the project. The chiefs of Aroland and Marten First Nations have said they will only support the plan if the smelter is built near their communities.

“After ignoring First Nations for months, Ontario thought they could divide and conquer us by holding an 11th-hour meeting and making a few promises,” Aroland Chief Sonny Gagnon said. “Ontario needs to deal with First Nations first rather than simply taking orders from Cliffs. We want the refinery in Aroland territory, and we want the highest standard of environmental review for the project.”

Gagnon used the term “conflict chromite” when describing the Ring of Fire, saying the decision to build the smelter in Sudbury was something he was never going to support.

“Cliff’s refinery could generate income, prosperity, sustain livelihoods and support First Nation development, but now it’s at risk of being an unregulated environmental disaster and contributing to serious Aboriginal rights abuses and conflict,” Gagnon said in a release.

Boor told reporters that while media coverage has indicated strong opposition among First Nations, in fact they have good relations with some of the communities. For example, Webequie First Nation issued a release Wednesday indicating it was willing to work with Cliffs and the government to find a way forward.

“Our relationships with these communities range from very positive to still quite challenging,” Boor said.

“One of the unfortunate aspects of this process has been that certain First Nations and municipal leaders have set their sites on a project outcome that is simply not viable.”

Objecting to the Ring of Fire development on environmental grounds is premature, he said, since the project is only now moving into the feasibility and environmental assessment phase.

He urged all parties to remember the benefits go far beyond the smelter jobs. The project will need access to the provincial power grid, offering area First Nations currently dependent on diesel power access to electricity for the first time.

“It’s essential to recognize that not one community will benefit, but many,” Boor said.

Boor said Sudbury was chosen because it gives the company by far the best chance at successfully developing the project.

“Sudbury offers the best combination of transportation logistics, labour, a long mining tradition, community support and access to power,” he said.

While he wouldn’t be specific, Boor said talks with the province have been productive enough that concerns over hydro costs have been dealt with, and he flatly denied rumours the province made a backroom deal in favour of the Capreol site.

“I can assure you it was not a foregone conclusion,” Boor said. “Our discussions with Ontario were about whether we could get the furnace facility into the province. Once it was known it was in Ontario, Cliffs had to do the proper evaluation on the location.”

The Ring of Fire, about 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, represents one of the most significant mineral regions in the province, and includes the largest deposit of chromite, used in the production of stainless steel, ever discovered in North America.

Posted by Arron Pickard