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First Nations say Ring of Fire development could have negative effects on water systems

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There are concerns from Indigenous leaders and community members about the development of mines, including the Ring of Fire in the far reaches of northern Ontario.

At a three-day annual lands and resources forum in North Bay, members of the Anishinabek Nation expressed fears that further development could harm the environment, water and fish that swim in area lakes, rivers and streams.

First Nations leaders said they’re not being properly consulted on the development of mining in their territories.

“One of the chiefs from Long Lake #58, she was saying that after the Ring of Fire goes through, the area of the land when you look at the land, it will look like the moon. So there’s adverse effects,” said Rocky Bay First Nation Chief and Northern Superior Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief Mel Hardy.

“We always bring forth the issue of our treaties and when they’re infringing on our treaties.”

The forum, called Everything Is Connected, included representatives from 25-30 of the 39 Anishinabek Nation’s First Nations.

There are concerns from Indigenous leaders and community members about the development of mines, including the Ring of Fire in the far reaches of northern Ontario. (File)

They are calling on all levels of government to honour its treaty when it comes to mine development near Lake Nipigon and the Ring of Fire.

“If they cross over into the river and come into our lakes, the fish will come in sick and nobody will realize the effect it will have on our people,” said Hardy.

In 2023, Grassy Narrows, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, and Muskrat Dam First Nations created the Land Defence Alliance in an effort to defend their territories in the Ring of Fire.

The Ford government wants to mine the area for precious metals and critical minerals to be used as part of a manufacturing chain for electric vehicles and the batteries they require.

“Any chief that I’ve spoken with for any length of time has said ‘We support development. We’re pro-development and we want to get it right,” said Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford while touring sites in Sudbury.

“That’s the good news story. We want to get it right, too.”

First Nations have growing concerns about the growing number of mining claims on their traditional territories.

“I’m the lead on the land and resources portfolio,” said Hardy.

“They don’t realize that the fish, birds and animals don’t see the lines the government draws in the sand.”

There are concerns from Indigenous leaders and community members about the development of mines, including the Ring of Fire in the far reaches of northern Ontario. (File)

The forum is meant to help build positive working relationships with First Nations, citizens, government, and industry professionals, to enhance decision-making that will act on matters that will protect First Nation jurisdiction, traditional territory, and rights; and serve as an opportunity to gather and discuss local and regional priorities, concerns, and opportunities for their communities.

“We consider our responsibility as stewards of the land,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe.

“It’s been passed down to us for generations and that’s our original stories and teachings and therefore we take that very seriously into consideration when we consider projects and everything else.”

Rickford said the government is pledging to “strike the right” balance when it comes to development and proper consultation with leaders.

“Between protecting the environment and creating one of the most environmentally sound policies known the world over,” Rickford said.

There are three proposed roads for the Ring of Fire region. One would connect Marten Falls First Nation with the provincial highway system to the south. From there, another road would go directly to the proposed mine site, known as Eagle's Nest and owned by Ring of Fire Metals. A third road would connect Webequie First Nation to the mine.

Those two First Nations are leading an environmental assessment on the road and each is doing separate environmental assessments on the other roads.

Neither Marten Falls First Nation nor Webequie First Nation have agreed to anything beyond the environmental assessments.

“We commit to our northern communities that we will work with them to ensure they have the right infrastructure as a community to have a healthy and prosperous community,” Rickford promised.

As of early 2022, there are more than 25,000 active mining claims that are held by 15 companies and individuals, according to the province's Ring of Fire website.

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