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Matawa brochure explains Ring of Fire opposition

Matawa chiefs are taking their Ring of Fire dispute to their people.
Matawa chiefs discuss their Ring of Fire position at a recent news conference in Thunder Bay. (Jamie Smith)

Matawa chiefs are taking their Ring of Fire dispute to their people.

On Friday Matawa officials released a brochure they’ve sent to their communities to inform residents of northern reserves about the activities in their traditional territories with respect to the Ring of Fire.

According to an email obtained by TB Newswatch, the brochure covers Matawa’s repeated attempts to communicate with the government about Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. and Noront Resources Ltd. projects and the request for a joint panel review environmental assessment and subsequent judicial review filed in federal court on Nov. 7, 2011.

Matawa spokesman Jason Rasevych said the brochures were produced for a couple of reasons.

"Right now at the community level we feel there is a lot of information that has been going out, and a lot of stuff in the media in the past six weeks about the Ring of Fire. And we just wanted to make everything clear to our community members and to the companies and to the industry that we're not opposed to development, as long as Aboriginal treaty rights are being accommodated and that those First Nations are being consulted in a meaningful way that they could understand," Rasevych said, reached by phone on Friday.

Rasevych said community members might be misinterpreting messages from the companies about the comprehensive study, and are expressing concerns they won't be able to profit jobs-wise because of their chiefs' stances.

"There might be some industry companies that are saying, 'What are these chiefs doing?' and (our people) are asking are we going to have jobs? We feel like there's mixed messages out there. This is not just about the development, it's about the process to get to that point," he said. "And we feel like we're being ignored by the government."

The brochure will be ditrubuted by community liaison officers in each community, and has also been sent to companies, the Canadian Envrionmental Assessment Agency and government officials, including Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, who did not immediately return an email interview request.

Matawa chiefs met with the CEAA and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines on Oct. 20, and the following day withdrew their support of Ring of Fire development, stating a comprehensive study environmental assessment was “inadequate.”

Earlier this week the CEAA announced Noront it has begun accepting public comment on Noront’s base-metal mining Eagle’s Nest project in the James Bay Lowlands.

Cliffs is looking to mine a major chromite deposit in the Ring of Fire, which some experts have pegged its worth at up to $30 billion.

Matawa chiefs, in  withdrawing their support of the projects, calling on the provincial and federal governments to step in, in conjunction with First Nations governments, to produce an environmental assessment for each project, which would allow for more hearings and local consultation so First Nations issues can be both heard and addressed.

“The government is failing in this whole Ring of Fire and northern development initiative,” Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias is quoted as saying in the brochure, which urges residents to talk to their community communications liaison officer or the Matawa Four Rivers Environmental Advisory Service.

“We need the Ontario premier and prime minister to intervene and come to the table. We need a government-to-government dialogue here.”

The mining projects not only include the development of mines, but ancillary infrastructure like roads, telecommunications and power lines, all of which will pass through traditional territories. The developments will “profoundly affect” Matawa communities and many other First Nations, the brochure explains, not to mention wildlife, wetlands, waterways and forests. It notes Matawa chiefs met with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines in late October.

Nibinamik First Nation Chief Roger Oskineegish says Northern First Nations aren’t against mining, but it has to be on their terms.

“We are pro-development, as long as we are protecting our resources and traditional lands for the benefit of future generations,” he says.

Aroland First Nation Chief Sonny Gagnon reiterates the call for the joint panel review, while Neskantaga First Nation Chief Peter Moonias says mining companies must respect Aboriginal connections to the land.

“We need to talk about the environment in a forum that respects our knowledge of the land, our oral tradition and our decision-making process,” he says.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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