Thunder Bay

Couple from Attawapiskat goes on 15-day boat trip to Ring of Fire to demonstrate presence and protect the land

Worried about the possible impacts of opening up the Ring of Fire, a couple from Attawapiskat First Nation spent part of their fall on a 15-day boat trip to the meeting point of the Attawapiskat and Muketei rivers in northern Ontario. Their mission: to document what they saw, make their presence and use of the land and waters known, and send a message to political leaders involved in the Ring of Fire.

James Kataquapit, 54, says they discovered abandoned 10-gallon barrels and two solar-powered cameras on trip

James Kataquapit, 53, and his wife Monique embarked on a 15-day trip up the Attawapiskat River to the area near the Ring of Fire in an effort to document the land and demonstrate First Nations presence on the land. (Submitted by James Kataquapit)

Worried about the possible impacts of opening up the Ring of Fire, a couple from Attawapiskat First Nation spent part of their fall on a 15-day boat trip to the meeting point of the Attawapiskat and Muketei rivers in northern Ontario.

Their mission: to document what they saw, make their presence and use of the land and waters known, and send a message to political leaders involved in the Ring of Fire.

"Bill 197 they call it. [My understanding is] if a mine comes here, they will not even ask us for our consent, they are just going to do it, and that's why I told my wife I want to do this," said James Kataquapit, 53, about why he and his wife Monique decided to go on their trip at the end of October.

"I want to look at my kids, my grandkids, my grand-grandkids... we're land people, we use land all the time and that's why I'm very concerned for that land... why I'm fighting for the land," he added.

The Ring of Fire is the name for a prospective mining area with large deposits of chromium located upriver and to the west of Attawapiskat First Nation. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is currently consulting First Nations and stakeholders as they develop the terms of reference that will guide a comprehensive assessment of possible impacts of the Ring of Fire.

The Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations have also taken steps to advance the environmental assessment for the so-called Northern Link road, one of four proposed all-season roads into the Ring of Fire area. These are going forward despite COVID-19 putting a stop to most travel into First Nations in northwestern Ontario.

Also during the pandemic, the Ontario government passed Bill 197, which is currently being challenged in the courts by First Nations and other environmental organizations concerned about the dismantling of environmental protections they argue will be caused by the new legislation.

The arrow marks the spot where James Kataquapit and his wife Monique travelled to during their more-than two-week trip to the meeting point of the Attawapiskat and Muketei rivers. (Submitted by James Kataquapit)

"Mining has a history of destroying land and water, said Kataquapit. "I know I can't stop [the Ring of Fire], so I want to show it before something happens to [the land]."

And show it, they did. 

Upon returning to Attawapiskat at the end of October, the couple compiled the stunning footage they took into one video to provide documentation of the land and water systems.

Among their discoveries were two solar-powered cameras, as well as about ten old 10-gallon barrels.

"Someone just left them there, I don't know who would've left them there?" Kataquapit asked.

James and Monique Kataquapit capture an image of their boat during a serene sunset while on their 15-day boat trip up the Attawapiskat River. (Submitted by James Kataquapit)

In addition to the concerns about possible impacts that the development of the Ring of Fire could have on the environment, Kataquapit is worried about the presence of First Nations peoples on the land being erased or forgotten in the area.

In a Facebook message, Kataquapit said, "more than ever now, it is crucial that the many prospectors and small mining companies that are reported here and that are coming know we are here."

He added, "they always say nobody's there. That's what they always want to tell us. But we want to show we were there. That's why we want to put up meegwum poles."

James Kataquapit leaves a flag at one of the meegwum poles near the Ring of Fire with a clear message to developers and political leaders involved in the prospective mining development: "everyone matters, including us!" (Submitted by James Kataquapit)

The couple erected several meegwum poles — which Kataquapit explained are the poles for a teepee — with their "family flags," "tobacco flags" and posters attached, and left them in the sites that they stopped at as a way to remind others about First Nations presence and use of the land.

He added that they plan to return again on this trip and have already heard from several others who wish to either go with them or pass along "their family flags" to be hung from the meegwum poles.

Kataquapit said, "we will continue to make our presence know[n], even if we need to put up 222 meegwum poles along the Attawapiskat River, one meegwum for each kilometre [down the river that the First Nation sits from the Ring of Fire.]"

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