Thunder Bay

Eabametoong chief skips mining conference citing government silence on Ring of Fire

Elizabeth Atlookan says she's disillusioned with the state of negotiations with Ontario.

Elizabeth Atlookan says she's disillusioned with the state of negotiations with Ontario

Eabametoong First Nation chief Elizabeth Atlookan says the Progressive Conservative government has failed to respond to repeated requests to continue regional discussions with Matawa chiefs about the Ring of Fire. (Jody Porter/CBC)

The annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention wraps up in Toronto Wednesday, but one First Nations leader says she gave it a pass this year.

Eabametoong chief Elizabeth Atlookan typically attended the event because it was a forum for meetings between Matawa chiefs and government officials, sometimes regarding the Ring of Fire, she said in a release posted March 1 on the community's web site.

But the Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford has failed to respond to repeated requests to continue meeting with the chiefs since coming to power in June of last year, she said. 

"I am somewhat disillusioned by the outcome of events with our negotiations with Ontario," Atlookan told CBC, "so I chose not to go."   

"You know there's a lot of talk about the Ring of Fire," she added, "and it's no secret the premier has said he's going to bulldoze his way to the Ring of Fire, so when that's being said, and you're, you know, excluded from any decision making ... obviously that's going to ring a lot of bells.

The nine Matawa chiefs wrote to Ford in July asking to continue regional Ring of Fire discussions, Atlookan wrote in her release.

Ontario responds

"Premier Ford has not yet responded other than saying Minister Rickford would follow up with a meeting. That was on August 9," she wrote. "Despite the good faith efforts of the Matawa Chiefs to pursue meetings with Minister Rickford via formal letters in October and December, still nothing."

Eabametoong has forwarded "a number of proposals for discussion" to Rickford's staff, she added, and received no response. 

"The amount of work that I believe we have put [in] as Eabametoong First Nation, along with my council, and then just things moving along as if we're not part of this area, like we don't have anything to say or offer, is just like a slap in the face," Atlookan told CBC. 

"I need to know from Ontario where I stand in this equation, so if they're not even going to be calling or talking to us, myself or my council, it's just like a door's been shut."

CBC forwarded Atlookan's written release to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and requested a response. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry wrote back saying, "We understand the incredible potential that exists in the north, and we are making sure that it is open for business and jobs. The Ring of Fire represents a major economic opportunity to build infrastructure and create jobs for communities across the North, including people in First Nation communities. We continue to work with willing partners to make sure that the needs of each community are met."