Marten Falls, Webequie deny 'closed door' approach in all-weather road agreements
Neskantaga and Eabametoong say they aren't being consulted over proposed Ring of Fire projects
Two northern Ontario Indigenous communities are calling on the province to "re-set" the process governing mining development in the Ring of Fire, saying they aren't being properly consulted.
In a media release issued last week, Neskantaga and Eabametoong say "the approach the Wynne government is taking to roads in the Ring of Fire is a scandal and could be a nail in the coffin for our Aboriginal rights and way of life," calling the process unreasonable and unfair.
Neskantaga and Eabametoong are among the nine Indigenous communities that signed an agreement with the province in 2014, which was to be a guideline for development in the Ring of Fire, a major deposit of chromite and other minerals in the James Bay Lowlands, about 575 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.
However, the two communities point to environmental assessment agreements signed May 3 between the province and the communities of Marten Falls and Webequie — which were also signatories to the 2014 agreement — as evidence the agreed-upon process isn't being adhered to.
Proposed access roads
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) said those agreements pertain to two all-weather access roads Marten Falls and Webequie intend to build.
Marten Falls plans to build a road from the community to the north end of the Painter Lake forestry road, north of Nakina.
Webequie First Nation's proposed road, meanwhile, would connect the community to the Ring of Fire area.
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The MOECC says the May 3 agreements are not approvals; rather, they deal with the environmental assessment process.
By signing the agreements, Marten Falls and Webequie agreed to conduct environmental assessments of the projects that meet the requirements of the province's Environmental Assessment Act.
Marten Falls and Webequie, the MOECC said, will still need to consult with other communities, as well as the government and the public, as the environmental assessment process moves forward.
However, Neskantaga and Eabametoong say they weren't consulted on those agreements, and, in fact, the signings were the result of a "closed door" process.
"This proposed Ring of Fire project is going to affect a lot of people, not just the two or three communities that are currently doing their studies in their respective areas," said Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias. "There's a lot of other communities, and a lot of other people that need to have a say in these processes."
However, Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum denied any closed-door meetings with the government.
"Everything was out in the open," he said. "There was media releases at each time, and I just find that there's some untruth to any suggestion of any backroom deals."
Moonias called on whichever party forms the next Ontario government after the June 7 provincial election to adhere to the 2014 agreement and consult with all nine communities on all Ring of Fire development.