Marten Falls First Nation knows it holds many cards when it comes to the Ring of Fire. And Chief Eli Moonias is not afraid to say no, if the government and industry do not work with the First Nations on developing the mines.
He just has not seen the need to say no yet. “There’s no development yet. There’s only a proposed development,” Moonias said. “As for the benefits, that is yet to come. That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Moonias outlined a range of challenges and concerns his First Nation has with the proposed Ring of Fire developments during a meeting with reporters in the community on June 7. Paramount among Moonias’ concerns is the potential for environmental pollution of the land, water and animals.
Marten Falls is well aware of the Athabasca River example in Alberta, Moonias said. He does not want to be in the same situation in the future as First Nations downstream of Alberta’s oilsands find themselves today, with pollution in the water and air, and fish and animals contaminated from the mines.
“If we’re going to get dollars for that development, what are we going to give up?” Moonias said. “We want our people to work, to stop the welfare dependency, but at what price?”
If the Ring of Fire does go ahead, Moonias expects to live in a very different community in 20 years.
Moonias said the only way his First Nation will support the mining development on its traditional lands is if it has guarantees of both economic benefits and environmental protections.
“Suppose we find a way to agree and development does occur, I don’t think we want to be in a situation in 20 years where we’re declaring a state of emergency because we’re lacking houses and infrastructure,” Moonias said. “I don’t think we want to be in a situation where our people are destroying themselves with drugs because they don’t have a life to get up in the morning for.”
“We will agree to this development only if we’re satisfied our community will improve greatly,” he added. “But I don’t want mercury and arsenic destroying the river in exchange for these good things I foresee.”
The chief’s concerns over potential environmental effects of mining were echoed by Marten Falls councilor Paul Achneepineskum. Achneepineskum was born on the land in the Ring of Fire area, and has trapped, hunted and fish all across the area of proposed development. His concerns are that the community will not be able to eat the fish or the animals on the land, not only in the areas adjacent to the mines but all over Marten Falls’ traditional territory.
“This mining project is dangerous to our traditional lands,” Achneepineskum said. “The pollution could escape from that mining area, and the animals, fish and water will be polluted.”
But Achneepineskum also echoed the chief in saying that if agreements can be reached to ensure that the mines do not pollute the surrounding land and waterways, development could be a good thing for the First Nation.
“I want to see the younger generation get employment, proper housing, recreational facilities. But I would want to make sure everything is set with agreements in place,” Achneepineskum said.