MPP worried that mine will disrupt the ecosystem

NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa for Kiiwetinoong is concerned about the local

sturgeon population when Ring of Fire consultations continue.

Conflicts between remote First Nations and mining interests in the

potentially lucrative Ring of Fire mineral belt will persist unless

the province takes steps to clarify requirements to consult with

Indigenous groups, advocates say.

Neskantaga First Nation is the latest remote community to contend

provisions under Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) are

inadequate when it comes to scrutinizing potential industrial

development — proposed road construction, in this case — on

traditional aboriginal lands.

“The EAA lacks a clear statement and guidance on the duty to consult

and accommodate with respect to environmental assessments,” a

Neskantaga news release said last week.

“This has created an unworkable system where project proponents, from

governments to mining companies to other First Nations, are unable to

meaningfully consult with affected communities.”

Neskantaga, which is located about 400 kilometres north-east of

Thunder Bay, has asked Ontario’s Superior Court “to weigh in on what

Ontario’s consultation obligations are with respect to the

development of terms of reference for an environmental assessment,

when a First Nation is in crisis.”

Neskantaga, which remains under a lengthy boil-water advisory, says

it couldn’t reasonably be expected to provide full input into the

assessment of the access roads proposals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The province imposed impossible deadlines, disregarding Neskantaga’s

own laws and protocols for community decision-making, and the

multiple crises the Nation was facing,” the news release said.

A Ministry of Environment spokesman said on Wednesday the province

wouldn’t comment on Neskantaga’s court application, but offered an e-

mailed statement:

“The Crown has a legal obligation to consult with First Nations

communities, where it contemplates decisions or actions that may

adversely impact credibly asserted or established First Nations or

treaty rights.”

“Ontario is committed to satisfying this obligation,” the spokesman

added.

NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa called the statement “good-sounding words” that

mask the province’s determination to ram through development in the

Ring of Fire at any cost.

Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong), who is from the remote North, said each First

Nation has its own consultation protocol to address the legal

requirement for the Crown to seek “free, prior and informed consent.”

That could involve consulting not just with elected band councillors,

but other community members “who have rights to the land,” Mamakwa said.

In Neskantaga, said Mamakwa, a pressing concern is the potential

impact of mining and other development on the local sturgeon population.

He added: “First Nations are not opposed to development, but they

want to be part of the decision-making process.”