This article came from Wawatay News: http://www.wawataynews.ca/
One thing was overwhelmingly clear during last week’s Prospectors and Developers mining conference in Toronto: the eyes of the mining world are focused squarely on northern Ontario.
Booths for the two big Ring of Fire players, Noront and Cliffs Resources, were packed all week. But it was not only the Ring of Fire getting attention. From gold mining around Red Lake to uranium and other heavy metals near Lake Nipigon, the mineral potential across the vast north was on display.
That incredible amount of interest in northern Ontario makes it all the more important for governments – First Nations, provincial and federal – to get ahead of the curve and plan now for the future.
There is no doubt that mining, if done well, can have many benefits for communities and the region. There is also no doubt that if poorly planned and/or poorly managed, mining can leave huge messes – both environmentally and socially – behind it.
The disparity between the potential positives and the fear of negatives was on display at the conference. While an unprecedented number of First Nations leaders were inside the conference, participating in a variety of ways, community leaders and Elders from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) were outside calling for the government to step in and ban a gold mining exploration company from KI lands.
KI’s argument is that its community is not ready for mining – that it needs to finish community planning, get land use plans in place and decide where, when and how development should proceed before it allows companies to explore for deposits on its land.
The First Nation rightly knows that if it steps back and lets industry take the lead, it may never get control again. It also knows that in many cases there is only one shot to get these big, long-term decisions right.
Not all First Nations are at the same point of development, or have the same needs. Delegates from northern Ontario First Nations inside the conference made that quite clear. While the sentiment on KI’s stance from First Nations leaders at the conference was generally supportive, it is clear that for some communities, mining – and other industrial development – is highly desired.
That is why the signing of the East-West corridor agreement for the Ring of Fire was such a fine thing to see.
The proposal between Eabametoong, Neskantaga, Nibinamik and Webequie essentially involves the four First Nations building, maintaining and operating a transportation corridor for the Ring of Fire.
Chief Harry Papah of Eabametoong said the deal allows the First Nations to take control of development on their traditional homeland, to “ensure that our communities really benefit in meaningful and long-term ways from the potential development in the Ring of Fire.”
In our opinion, Papah hit the nail on the head. If development in northern Ontario is going to proceed, First Nations have to benefit in meaningful and long-term ways. And for that to happen, First Nations need to be involved in all stages of the development. They need to have a say in how and where mining takes place, how environmental monitoring happens, and how and where the spinoffs of mining – things like roads, power lines, airstrips and railways – get built.
Up to this point the debate over transportation in the Ring of Fire has focused on whether Cliff’s North-South route or Noront’s East-West route was best. Both options were being led by industry. Both options placed the needs of communities second to moving tonnes of ore from the mines to market.
By signing the East-West transportation corridor agreement the chiefs have gone well beyond simply asking industry to take their interests into account. Instead, they have made their demands in a positive way. They have made it clear that not only do First Nations expect to be considered when decisions are made, but that First Nations plan to be involved on the ground and benefit economically from the development on their own terms.
The details of the East-West arrangement still need to be worked out. Whether the First Nations build roads and then charge industry to use them, whether the provincial and federal governments get involved on a partnership approach, or whether some other option may be best still remains to be seen.
But regardless of the details, local First Nations have outlined a positive, reasonable plan for proceeding with the transportation side of the Ring of Fire development.
They have gotten ahead of the curve, and passed the ball to the provincial and federal governments.
At the very least the governments should take the First Nations’ lead and do everything in their power to make sure this agreement comes to fruition.
Or they could go even further and do their own regional planning. They too could get ahead of the curve.