Area leaders advocate for consideration of all access routes to Ring of Fire
Tim Brody - Editor
Members of the East-West Ring of Fire Road Coalition, a group made up of Indigenous, municipal and businesses representatives, were at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on March 2 advocating for consideration of all access routes to the Ring of Fire chromite deposit.
Members of the Coalition include the Chiefs’ of the First Nation communities of Lac Seul, Cat Lake, Slate Falls, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, the Mayor of Sioux Lookout as well as Morgan Fuels, Perron Contracting and the Sioux Lookout Friendship Accord.
Through a news release the group shared, “The Coalition is supportive of the federal government’s recent announcement to initiate a Regional EA process. The Prospectors and Developers Conference (PDAC) in Toronto provides the opportunity to remind federal and provincial Ministers of the Environment of the importance of the undertaking as well as potential implications for land use, the region’s economy, culture and indigenous rights.”
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance outlined the details of July 2019 correspondence between the Coalition and (then) Federal Minster of Environment Catherine McKenna and current Ontario Minister of Environment Jeff Yurek. “Our request was that all access routes to the Ring of Fire be considered.” Lawrance went on to state, “We are pleased to see the announcement of the Federal Regional EA process – and are here today to remind both senior levels government of the importance of considering all routes.”
Darrell Morgan, President of Morgan Fuels, described “How much of the supply network for fuel, food construction materials and other goods flow from the west to serve the area, often on winter ice roads.” He went on to state, “Important transportation assets such as rail, road connections to the TransCanada highway and air service can be accessed via an east‐west alignment. The Sioux Lookout Regional Airport already serves as a key air access hub for 31 First Nations in the region.”
Matthew Keewaykapow, Chief of Cat Lake First Nation located 180 kms north of Sioux Lookout, commented, “An east‐west road would provide access and benefits for many remote First Nations communities. All season road access to my community of Cat Lake is critical to our future. It is important for health care for the elders and the economic and education opportunities of our youth.” He also noted “climate change makes the winter roads which currently serve remote communities less predictable every year.”
Lawrance explained, “A Regional EA would frame project assessments required for future access for First Nations communities, mining development and other activities.” He further commented, “The stakes are high. Planning and development of access to Ontario’s Far North is a complex undertaking. All options need to be considered with care. This will shape the future of the entire North.”
That same day, the Government of Ontario announced it had entered into an agreement with Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation on the development of a proposed Northern Road Link.
Premier Doug Ford and Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, were joined by Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls First Nation and Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention on March 2 for the signing ceremony.
“After 15 years of delay by the previous government, we said we would build a road to the Ring of Fire, and we are working with our incredible partners in the Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation to do just that and make sure we do it right,” Premier Ford stated. “Together, we can bring jobs and prosperity to communities across the Far North. Promises made, promises kept.”
A Government of Ontario news release explained, “Today's signing marks a new partnership between the government, Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation to advance planning of critical road infrastructure that would provide reliable, all-season road access to potential mine sites and connect First Nation communities to Ontario's provincial highway network.”
“Our government is proud to partner with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to support the development of reliable, all-season road infrastructure and move forward with our shared goal of bringing economic prosperity to the region,” Minister Rickford said. “Together, with First Nations partners, we are creating a clear path forward to unlock unprecedented social and economic prosperity in the Far North.”
The all-season road project is expected to improve access to health and social services and put in place improved infrastructure, such as high-speed Internet and reliable cellular service, for the First Nations and other communities nearby, the Government of Ontario news release went on to state.
“We look forward to working together with Ontario to ensure the sustainable development of our ancestral territories,” said Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, Marten Falls First Nation. “Marten Falls First Nation takes seriously our right to make decisions for the betterment of our community. We are moving ahead with this agreement so all communities in the region can connect to the next phase, which is to secure and bring good-paying jobs in mining, construction and other skilled trades to our communities.”
“Webequie First Nation supports responsible development in our territory,” said Chief Cornelius Wabasse, Webequie First Nation. “We have been working together with Ontario for many years to reach this point. We believe that road development will help bring prosperity to communities across the region and better infrastructure - both on and off-reserve. We understand that road development will impact our traditional territories but believe this is a positive step forward to unlocking new opportunities that will benefit all surrounding First Nation communities.”
When asked about the provincial announcement, Mayor Lawrance commented, “The Provincial announcement doesn’t change our request for an Environmental Assessment process that considers all options to access the Ring of Fire. Nor does it change our position that access to the Ring of Fire, or any other resource, should be secondary to access for communities and people in the north. A Regional Assessment needs to be prepared for road access to and from Ontario’s Far North. The Federal Government recently announced their support for such a Regional Assessment. There is much information on record and available to inform this assessment.”
Fort Albany First Nation shared through a news release on March 3, they were alarmed by the announcement of the Northern Road Link.
“During a press conference, Premier Doug Ford along with Indigenous Relations Minister, Greg Rickford announced a partnership with neighbouring Nations within Fort Albany First Nation’s territory, to develop the Northern Road link. The Northern Road Link will link two other roads already proposed by Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation. This would create the first continuous all-season road from the provincial highway network to the Ring of Fire,” the news release issued by Fort Albany First Nation stated.
“Fort Albany First Nation has been participating in good faith in the consultations related to the impact and environmental assessment processes for the Marten Falls and Webequie roads,” said Fort Albany First Nation’s Chief, Leo Metatawabin. “It appears that behind the scenes, Ontario, Marten Falls First Nation, and Webequie First Nation have been making plans that could majorly increase harmful environmental impacts of these projects. This raises serious concerns about Free, Prior and Informed Consent, the transparency and integrity of the environmental assessment processes, and whether Ontario is meeting its duty to consult.”
“Fort Albany First Nation was disappointed to have learned of the Northern Road Link through a press release made by the Office of the Premier yesterday afternoon. It is deeply concerning that Fort Albany been excluded from important intergovernmental leadership meetings on a project of this scale, which will have major impacts on its traditional territory,” Fort Albany First Nation informed.
“Ontario’s enthusiastic support for the Northern Road Link without any meaningful dialogue at all with Fort Albany makes us extremely concerned that they are not approaching their duty to consult in good faith, and that any consultation with us will simply be a rubber-stamp exercise,” Chief Metatawabin said.
“Our Peoples will not accept this. We will not consent to anything done with disregard for our
Inherent and Treaty rights,” concluded Chief Metatawabin.