Moving ahead with the Ring of Fire will require not just consultation, but the consent of the First Nations nearest to the mining development area in northern Ontario, according to Bob Rae.
Rae is the negotiator for the nine Matawa First Nations in their discussions with Ontario about the proposed mining project.
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Last week the province and the federal government announced they would jointly fund a $785,000 study to look at the viability of a road that would connect four fly-in First Nations to the provincial highway at Pickle Lake, Ont. The route being studied would also provide an industrial corridor for a nickel mine planned by Noront Resources.
"This can't be a process that is driven exclusively on the interests of one project or another," Rae said. "It has to be seen as responding to a broader concern which is the isolation, the poverty, the real needs of these communities."
To that end, Rae said, more than one road will be needed.
First Nations envision a loop that begins near the provincial highway at Nakina, Ont. travels through Aroland and Marten Falls First Nations, connects with the route currently under study and ends at Pickle Lake, he said.
Despite the waning investment in the project from mining companies, Rae said the First Nations are keeping up "a steady pace of meetings" with the province about the Ring of Fire.
Ontario's Mining Act requires aboriginal consultation, but Rae sets the standard higher in the Ring of Fire.
It's "long past" the point where government's can proceed with development without the "full support of First Nations," he said.
"Can I imagine a situation where any infrastructure project could be built or would be built in the traditional territory of the First Nations of Matawa without their consent?" Rae asked rhetorically. "The simple answer is no."