Development of the Ring of Fire is moving far too fast for First Nations to adequately prepare, say the chiefs of two northern First Nations whose traditional lands overlap the proposed mining area.
Both Chief Eli Moonias of Marten Falls First Nation and Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation say they are not against development, and they both want to ensure that First Nations benefit from any mining projects that do go ahead in their area.
But both agree that current pace of planning for the Ring of Fire, and the proposed schedule laid out by Cliffs Natural Resources for the first project in the region, does not give their communities time to prepare for the major changes facing them.
“I’d like to have time before everything starts so that we’re satisfied that we’re taking the right direction, so we’re not jumping to conclusions here,” Moonias said.
Marten Falls wants to further explore negotiations with the provincial government over resource revenue sharing, Moonias said. He also wants to see what happens with the judicial review of the environmental assessment, currently before the courts, before making any decisions on whether to support or oppose the proposed Ring of Fire projects.
“With Cliff’s schedule, I wont have any time to explore those things further,” Moonias said.
Cliffs has stated it hopes to start production at its open-pit mine in 2015.
Webequie’s chief has repeatedly emphasized that his community wants the development to proceed, in order that benefits will flow into Webequie. Yet Wabasse feels the development is moving too fast for his community to prepare, especially given the fact that Webequie is in the early stages of creating a land use plan for its traditional territory.
“Yes, it’s moving too quickly,” Wabasse said. “It’s a pressure for us, as we’re not prepared yet. We need time to prepare our people.”
Wabasse said Webequie has just recently started its land use plan for a region that includes a number of mining claims in the Ring of Fire.
He expressed frustration that companies are claiming, staking and then selling parts of Webequie’s traditional territory.
“There are companies out there selling land claims on our traditional area,” Wabasse said. “I’m trying to claim my land and it’s already been staked and sold. So how do we deal with that? I don’t have an answer for that.”
As for Moonias, he thinks a visit to other chromite mines around the world should be in order before any First Nation decides to support or oppose the projects.
He cited mines in South Africa, Finland and Turkey as places he would like to visit, to talk to people living near the mines and see the operations in place.
“I want to see them, hear them, see what people who live near them are experiencing in these sites before I say go ahead here,” Moonias said. “I’d like to have time to do that before everything starts.”