TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – In Ontario the relationship between the mining sector, the provincial government and the First Nations is changing rapidly. Once often viewed as an afterthought, consultation with aboriginal communities is now critical for the success of a project and entails constant dialogue.
But the process still has hurdles to overcome. This is particularly true for the north of the province, an area that includes the Ring of Fire region, where world-class chromite deposits abound.
THE RING THAT BINDS
On June 11, Cliffs Natural Resources announced that it was freezing work on the feasibility study for its $3.3-billion Black Thor chromite project within the Ring of Fire. One of the issues cited by the company was the need for greater clarity relating to First Nations negotiations and the position of the government. Several commentators argued the outcome was a major setback.
“But Cliffs hasn’t stopped discussions with the First Nations communities and I don’t have a sense that they’ve backed away from their interests,” chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations Bob Rae told Mining Weekly Online.
The Matawa comprises the nine First Nations most directly affected by the Ring of Fire’s development. “Cliffs wants to see greater clarity in the relationship with government and the First Nations before making more decisions about the timing of further development,” he said. “Frankly, I think that’s wise; I also agree there has to be greater clarity.”
“The Ring of Fire is a huge project and we have an exciting opportunity,” Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle told Mining Weekly Online. “We’re working directly with the Matawa … We recognise the need for closer work with the First Nations. They must be included within the opportunities gained through mining development.”
Setting the parameters of First Nations’ rights and requirements in early stage discussions with the province’s chief negotiator, Frank Iacobucci, will be critical for Rae.
“It’s important to establish a new relationship that recognises the legitimate right to be consulted and included on issues surrounding resource development within territory that forms part of the Matawa’s historic landscape,” he said.
“The requirements of the First Nations who have lived in these regions for thousands of years has to be recognised; they can’t simply be left on the margins of economic development,” he added. “It requires changing attitudes on everyone’s part.”
Gravelle concurred, underlining the region’s enormous promise. “What we’re talking about is a smart, sustainable and collaborative development … the Ring of Fire chromite discovery has the potential to be on a similar scale to the historic discovery of nickel in Sudbury Bay. It’s got a multigenerational value, so we have to get this right.”
“But I won’t pretend that all discussions are pleasant all of the time,” he added. “Across Ontario there are occasions when tough talk still goes down. However, I think that’s part of the process we’re all working our way through.”
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