SUDBURY -- Three northern Ontario First Nations located in the James Bay lowlands have declared a moratorium on the Ring of Fire development until the governments of Canada and Ontario honour the promise of meaningful Indigenous involvement in the regional impact assessment of the project.

In an April 5 news release, Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Neskantaga First Nations said they "stand to be seriously and permanently desecrated by massive-scale mining in the Ring of Fire."

Ontario's Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines calls the Ring of Fire "one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in over a century."

Noront Resources holds the largest claim to the development and plans to first develop its Eagles Nest nickel mine and then chromite mines.

Several northern Ontario communities were vying for the opportunity to host a new ferrochrome smelter and in 2019, Noront chose the City of Sault Ste. Marie as the site where it will eventually build the new $1 billion facility. The smelter can turn chromite into ferrochrome, a key ingredient in stainless steel.

The ministry said, "current estimates suggest a multi-generational potential of chromite production, as well as significant production of nickel, copper and platinum."

In the moratorium dated April 1, the three First Nations are asking for a regional impact assessment that is Indigenous-led and for time to deal with the current crises COVID-19 has caused in their communities.

They state Canada has gone back on its promise of allowing First Nations meaningful involvement at all stages of the assessment and planning.

"Despite Canada knowing of First Nations' intent and agreeing to time to develop this proposal after the pandemic crisis had ended, Canada now informs us it effectively had no intent of paying any attention to any such proposal; and that Canada and Ontario have been collaborating behind First Nations' backs for the last year to agree on the terms of reference for the RIA which they will show us in April "for comment", and in which First Nations have nothing but token involvement," the news release said.

An email response from Adam Hendy, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, failed to address allegations by the Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Neskantaga First Nations that are being left out of the conversation, impact assessment and planning of the Ring of Fire development.

"Ontario continues to work with Indigenous partners to create jobs, generate revenue, and build new infrastructure to bring economic prosperity to communities in the north. Our government is committed to ensuring responsible development in the Ring of Fire region that benefits Indigenous communities through social and economic growth," Hendy said. "We are committed to meeting our constitutional obligations, prioritizing Indigenous interests and supporting business continuity and economic recovery from COVID-19." 

He did, however, point out that other First Nations are involved in the process.

"As proponents, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations are working to address the requirements of Ontario’s Environmental Assessment process and the federal Impact Assessment Act for proposed road developments. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is also conducting a Regional Assessment study on the Ring of Fire."

CTV News has also reached out to both the government of Canada and Noront Resources for comment.