The Matawa First Nations chiefs have withdrawn a legal challenge to the federal environmental assessment of the Cliffs chromite project in the Ring of Fire.

The case was set to be heard by Federal Court later this month.

 In a news release Wednesday, the Matawa Tribal Council said that when it started the court case in late 2011, there was no negotiation table, and it was pushed into a corner. 

"There's a forum for discussions with Ontario now and it's going to look at the environmental assessment question, as well as other issues," Aroland Chief Sonny Gagnon said.

Talks with Ontario began recently with Bob Rae representing the First Nations, and Frank Iacobucci negotiating for the government.

Matawa said it expects that mining companies and the federal government will also be involved.

Matawa's announcement came one day after a declaration by Marten Falls First Nation, also a member of the tribal council, that it had withdrawn from the court challenge.

Judicial review not worth the expense

Chief Eli Moonias said his community no longer believes the judicial review is worth the money. Moonias said Marten Falls will now be working directly with Cliffs to develop its own community-based environmental assessment model.  

Webequie First Nation withdrew from the court action last year.

"We're focussing on negotiations, but let me be clear, this doesn't mean everything's fine," said, Chief Elizabeth Atlookan of Matawa's Eabametoong First Nation. "The negotiating process is starting, not ending."

Gagnon added that the communities are not happy with the current environmental assessment process, but now have a way to change it through negotiations.  He added that a court-ordered solution "is never going to be as good as our own solution."

Cliffs Natural Resources issued its own statement Wednesday, welcoming the prospect of developing "a collaborative working relationship" with Marten Falls.

"We're determined to be a good partner, and will continue to work with First Nations who may be impacted by the project, to understand their concerns and priorities," senior vice-president Bill Boor said.