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Two First Nations to start Ring of Fire environmental assessment

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Officials are celebrating what they are calling a 'historic milestone' for the Ring of Fire development in Ontario's Far North.

In an update on northern Ontario's Ring of Fire mineral deposit Thursday morning, the chiefs of Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation announced they have completed terms of reference – a document outlining how the groups will work together on a particular project -- for the proposed Northern Road Link (NRL) Environmental Assessment. The two chiefs signed an agreement with the Ontario government in March 2020 to start the project's planning and development.

The terms of reference will be released later this month, Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Achneepineskum said in a live news conference.

"It's a start of a journey for us into economic reconciliation for Marten Falls First Nation and neighbouring Matawa First Nation communities," Achneepineskum said.

"There's a lot of work still to do. We're going to be moving on to the actual work of the environmental assessment. Moving forward with the actual studies that are going to be happening."

The Northern Road Link would connect two proposed roads, the 200-kilometre Marten Falls to Aroland Community Access Road at the south end and the proposed 110-kilometre Webequie Supply Road to the Ring of Fire at the north end.

"This proposed road is the final piece of critical road infrastructure needed to ensure reliable, all-season road access to potential mining sites in the Ring of Fire and connect both First Nations communities to Ontario’s highway network," the province said in a news release.

The two First Nations are leading the planning of the road project being dubbed the 'Corridor to Prosperity' in partnership with the province, which has committed nearly $1 billion "to support critical legacy infrastructure such as the planning and construction of an all‑season road network, and investments in high-speed internet, road upgrades and other community supports."

Achneepineskum said the partnership sets new precedence on Indigenous proponency.

"It is important to remember why we are here and what this represents. We are leading the Northern Road Link because the project is in our traditional territory and we are exercising our right to self-determination. This represents a potentially bright future for our future generations, for our neighbours, and for the region," Achneepineskum said.

Ford said the aim is to connect northern resources to electric vehicle battery manufacturers in the southern region.

"Today is a landmark day as we work side by side with our Indigenous partners to ensure that communities around the Ring of Fire have access to the roads needed to not only support development but also improve access to everyday essentials like fuel, groceries and health care. We’re getting it done," he said in a news release.

"The NRL project is an Indigenous-led environmental assessment, which integrates Indigenous principles with the provincial process. We look forward to discussing the NRL project with our Indigenous neighbours and key stakeholders," said Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse in a news release.

The Ring of Fire deposit includes chromite, nickel, copper and platinum.

"Ontario’s Ring of Fire region is one of the most promising mineral development opportunities for critical minerals in the province. It’s located approximately 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay and covers about 5,000 square kilometres," the province said.

This announcement comes almost a month after the province announced its first critical mineral strategy and nearly a week after announcing a reduction in electricity costs for northern Ontario's industrial sector.

Mining activity in the northern region is ramping up with a new lithium development project, Island Gold Mine's third shaft expansion and IAMGOLD's Côté Gold Project set to open in 2023.

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