THUNDER BAY – UPDATED – Editorial – News that Marten Falls First Nation is planning a blockade on mining activity in the Ring of Fire should not come as a major surprise to anyone who has followed events in Ontario’s North. First Nations leaders starting with Nishanawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy have made it very clear that they are open to development on their traditional lands. However many of the actions taken by the Ontario Government have caused rifts. The Far North Act was opposed by the NAN, who state that the Premier promised that the legislation would not pass without their consent.
When the legislation was passed, the seeds were sown for frustration. With the announcement of a blockade those seeds are being reaped. For Ontario, the issue is that mining and the Ring of Fire offer tremendous opportunity.
However as Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs stated, “We are trying to make carrot cake, and the First Nations have all the carrots”. Hobbs is making it clear from his continuing efforts to reach out to our Aboriginal residents that their views matter too. In attempting to bring jobs to Northwestern Ontario, Hobbs, just returning from a meeting in Sudbury, appeared to be at odds once again with the provincial government. “First Nation are still more of a key player in this than Cliffs, or anyone else are acknowledging,” states Hobbs.
“The City of Thunder Bay also fully understands the key role that First Nations people have in this development,” said Mayor Hobbs. “We will continue to develop strong partnerships with First Nations including our partners Nishnawbe Aski Nation and neighbour Fort William First Nation.
In Marten Falls, the Chief and Council declared their intention for a blockage back in January. “Chief and Council are positioning to do a blockade once again,(March 3-2011) to make a public statement, and raise awareness through the media, the list of grievances put forward the previous year, have not been addressed in a reasonable and timely manner.
“Mining companies have continued to disregard the community collective rights acknowledged through Supreme Court decisions such as the recent Haida case. MFFN Chief and Council must assert the constitutionally protected aboriginal, treaty and consultation rights of the First Nation be addressed in proper forum.
“Chief and Council have noted membership is concerned with short term impacts regarding exploration jobs and opportunities and it is warranted, in view of the lack of employment in the region, but Chief and Council also recognize the need to set up a solid foundation process for negotiation and the address of First Nations’ collective rights. There has to be proper consultation from the start to the finish on the developments and it must be conducted in a thorough and respectful manner. In order to have proper consultation, Chief and Council need to see immediate and adequate resources. This has not been the case,as funding for consultation and negotiations to the First Nation has been marginal and slow to come in.
“Chief and Council have enacted a BCR this past week to hire Larry Innes of Othius, Kleer, and Townsend (OKT) Legal Firm from Toronto and Native-Centric Stategies as the the main proponents for the MFFN legal and negotiation team addressing mining and resource issues in Marten Falls traditional territory and the area referred to as the “Ring of Fire”.
“Marten Falls First Nation will begin blockade action March 3-2011 to preserve our rights to our historical and treaty protected lands”.
At issue are the jobs, and the degree of co-operation.
The Chief and Council have also decided against accepting an all-expenses-paid trip offered from mining companies to the PDAC convention being held in Toronto. “Chief and Council felt it would be inappropriate to accept offers from in view of our blockade issues outstanding and the lack of good faith and deterioration of talks between mining companies and MFFN”.
Now, bluntly put, our two MPPs Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle are likely in the position, although neither would ever admit it, of being marginalized in this effort. The real issue appears increasingly to be Premier Dalton McGuinty who doesn’t seem to fully understand how First Nations understand the importance of promises made.
On Tuesday in Queen’s Park, a question on mining and First Nations asked by NDP leader Andrea Horwath was answered by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
Horwath asked, “First Nations leaders across the north warned the McGuinty Liberals that the Far North Act was flawed from the very beginning. It didn’t respect their ability to make decisions about the future, they said. Martin Falls First Nation will be restricting access to the Ring of Fire after significant exploration work was done on their traditional territory without any involvement at all from them.
“After refusing to listen to concerns of northern communities over the Far North Act, are the McGuinty Liberals surprised at all that there are real problems here?”
Christopher Bentley, the Minister responded, “I know that my colleague the Minister of Northern Development and Mines is working very closely with Martin Falls on specific issues. My colleague, myself and the Minister of Natural Resources were at an economic conference with Nishnawbe Aski Nation just last week in Thunder Bay—a three-day conference. You know what we heard? What we heard were the plans that are actually proceeding.
From Chief Hardisty of Moose Cree, the Lower Mattagami is proceeding. It will be employing hundreds of people from First Nations. We heard from other communities that are working very closely with businesses to provide real economic opportunities in the north. We heard about different communities that are engaged in planning to make sure that the planning and economic development that proceeds is where they would like and benefits all in the community. There is a lot of very positive development going on”.
There may be positive development happening, but without making sure that the economic benefits are there for the First Nations, it is likely that the Ring of Fire will take a lot more time to come to fruition.
With companies determined to get this project rolling quickly, with 2015 mentioned as a date, it is incumbent on Premier McGuinty to step up and make sure it does. It is equally important to move quickly, by summer the Ontario Legislature will hit the summer recess and campaigning in earnest will start for the October election.
Time is key right now, and it is time for action.