Two remote First Nations are calling on the incoming government to reset the regional Ring of Fire infrastructure planning process after they claim a year of secret meetings led to the Wynne Liberals signing agreements with other communities.
Neskantaga and Eabametoong First Nations on Wednesday issued a media release, denouncing environmental assessment agreements they said were signed between the provincial government and Marten Falls and Webequie First Nation earlier this month.
Those agreements mark the beginning of an aggressive process to build roads into the Ring of Fire, Neskantaga and Eabametoong claim, arguing any road development will impact all of the communities and only cause further delays and frustration.
Prior to the 2014 provincial election, Premier Kathleen Wynne had signed a regional framework agreement with the nine Matawa First Nations communities that had been intended to create collective negotiations to develop the Ring of Fire.
“We agreed to work on these issues together as a group of nine First Nations and Ontario, but Ontario is trying to take a shortcut,” Eabametoong chief Elizabeth Atlookan said in a statement.
“We have worked on community-based solutions for how to do this the right way – carefully considering all the impacts and development scenarios so we can arrive at informed regional consensus, but our suggestions are not taken seriously.”
Wynne in August 2017 announced an all-season road would be constructed to connect Marten Falls, Webequie and Nibinamik First Nations to the provincial highway network, with that construction expected to begin in 2019.
Her challengers in next week’s provincial election – Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford and New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath – have each been critical of the Wynne government’s handling of the Ring of Fire.
Notably, Ford during this year’s PC leadership race vowed to personally hop on a bulldozer and start building the road, though he has since seemed to back away from that pledge.
Atlookan and Neskantaga chief Wayne Moonias urged whoever is elected on June 7 to keep the previous promise to work with all nine communities.
“The development of our homelands is about more than any one mine or road,” Atlookan said.
“It’s about the potential transformation of our lands and way of life forever. These discussions are serious and must occur in ways that recognize our rights and involve all our communities, not the closed door approach we’ve seen over the past couple of years.”