Mines can create Indigenous middle class in Ring of Fire: Opinion
by Stan Sodol
TORONTO – MINING OPINION – It’s been 10 years since the world-class Ring of Fire mineral district was discovered in the isolated James Bay Lowlands, about 500 kms northeast of Thunder Bay. Not one mine has been built.
During those 10 years, the equally isolated territory of Nunavut has built two gold mines (Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank and TMAC Resources’ Doris) and one iron ore operation (Baffinland’s Mary River).
A fourth gold mine (Agnico Eagle) should be in production in 2019 — and Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. A junior exploration company with a very rich precious metal deposit has just been given continued development approvals by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
Noront Resources is the only significant company in the Ring of Fire with a potentially bankable mineral asset, their nickel/copper Eagle’s Nest deposit, as well as the owner of 75 per cent of the valuable staked claims in the region. The company also has plans to develop an adjacent chromite deposit using the Eagle’s Nest underground infrastructure and is currently looking for a suitable site in Northern Ontario to build a ferrochrome processing plant to supply the American market.
If the project moves forward, there will be many employment opportunities and infrastructure investments — though both levels of government have shamefully done very little to date — for the surrounding First Nations communities who live in impoverished Third World conditions and are experiencing one of the highest child suicide epidemics in the world.
None of this can happen unless a vital 280-km east-west road is built, that would also connect — through spur lines — the four isolated First Nations communities of Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga and Eabametoong.
A road will bring many benefits, including lower costs for food, building material, diesel fuel and construction and maintenance jobs, as well as a necessary replacement for current ice roads that are losing their viability due to global warming.
However, there is some resistance in the communities due to fears over increased drug trafficking and a significant reduction in Ontario social welfare rates — up to 40 per cent — once a First Nation is connected by road.
A provincial commitment to increase manpower and funding for policing should help contain any possible increase in drug trafficking and a 10-year moratorium on social welfare reductions would go a long way to neutralizing any community opposition. Considering the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars worth of metal underneath their traditional territory, for the Wynne Liberals to quibble over the small amounts involved with current social assistant levels seems petty and foolhardy.
Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine, which started production in 2010, has made a considerable impact on the territory’s economy. A study reported that the mine contributes about 15 per cent to the territory’s GDP and employs slightly more than 300 Inuit at an average wage of $107,000 a year — the foundation of an Inuit middle-class.
Agnico Eagle annually spends about $5 million on extensive internal skill training programs to help Inuit advance in the workforce and generates $280 million yearly in local business procurement.
And royalties will be flowing to the Inuit through their umbrella organization, the Nunavut Iunngavik Inc. Patrick Tagoona, president of Nunavut Investments Ltd., stated in a Nunatsiaq News article, that people have trouble finding parking spaces in Baker Lake, the closest community to the Meadowbank mine, due to all the new trucks bought by mine workers.
And Agnico Eagle is spending a further $1.2 billion to develop two more gold deposits — Whale Tail and Meliadine — that will provide further Inuit employment, as well as about $500 million per year in contracts for goods and services for local companies after 2019.
The recent announcement that Petronas has cancelled an $11.4-billion LNG project in British Columbia is a cautionary warning that resource companies will not wait forever for political and First Nations leadership to approve infrastructure and projects.
The Wynne Liberals have been incapable of solidifying a deal with the four communities even though negotiations have been ongoing for almost half a decade. The Wynne government continues to highlight the need for reconciliation with Ontario’s First Nations — empty words to say the least.
Wynne must focus on “economic reconciliation” if she is not to appear as a political hypocrite. Finalizing a road into the Ring of Fire with community spurs will ignite the economic development and jobs that the impoverished Indigenous communities in the Ring of Fire desperately need.
And for First Nation leaders, who might be opposed to mineral development, they should consider that 150 years of government support has done little to create economic prosperity in their impoverished communities and the lack of initiative during the first two years of a left-leaning, pro-Indigenous Trudeau administration is very troubling. But as the Inuit in Nunavut have learned, sustainable mineral development of their resources can be the foundation of an Indigenous middle-class that they so rightly deserve.
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant, freelance mining columnist and owner/editor of the www.republicofmining.com .
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