The expectations First Nations groups have about the fabulous wealth the Ring of Fire represents are welcome, Ontario’s minister of Northern Development and Mines says. But the government’s focus, first and foremost, is keeping ferrochrome production in Ontario, Rick Bartolucci said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Chief Eli Moonias, of Marten Falls First Nation, and Chief Sonny Gagnon, of Aroland First Nation, outlined to the Ontario government their position on mining development in their territory. High among their expectations is that Ring of Fire minerals extracted within First Nation territories are processed and refined in those territories.
The Ring of Fire mineral deposit is located within First Nations homelands in Northern Ontario. There are more than 35,000 staked mining claims in the area, the majority in the Ring of Fire area, which holds chromite and precious minerals.
The two chiefs agreed Exton Siding, adjacent to Aroland First Nation, is the natural location for the high-tech ferrochrome smelter that will accompany the mine. Exton Siding is already designated as a future ore transloading junction.
The community is 300 kilometres from either the nearest road or rail link.
Exton Siding is also the location the Municipality of Greenstone is promoting. Greenstone has hired former Liberal energy minister George Smitherman to lobby Cliffs and the provincial government and is working co-operatively with the First Nations to promote the vision.
However, a site near Sudbury is preferred to land the jewel of the project — the $1.8-billion processing plant and its 400-plus jobs. A highly skilled workforce and ready access to Ontario electricity grid have led them to Sudbury.
The First Nations communities have insisted all along on being shareholding partners with the mining companies, and equals with the provincial government. The First Nations want final say on what occurs on their traditional lands, which cover almost the entire far north.
Chief Moonias has called for “strict environmental controls and accountability.”
He and others have complained they are not being properly consulted about or included in Ring of Fire projects and as a result vow to oppose the Far North Act.
Bar tolucci said the province’s role is to engage everyone in the negotiations. No matter how it unfolds, the Ring of Fire will have a dramatic impact on the north’s economy, infrastructure, educational opportunities, social determinants and electricity grid, he said.
“Ontario is committed to developing the Ring of Fire project as quickly as possible and with regard to environmental impacts and the needs of the aboriginal communities in the region,” Bartolucci said.
These estimates do not include the substantial cost of transporting materials to market or, in Cliffs’ case, first to a processing smelter.