Leaders of northern First Nations rally at Queen's Park against Ontario's mining push
First Nations Land Defence Alliance urges halt to mining exploration on traditional lands
People from five northern First Nations rallied outside Queen's Park on Thursday to call for a halt to provincial mining explorations on traditional lands, saying the Ontario government has not fulfilled its obligation to consult.
Leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Grassy Narrows and Muskrat Dam First Nations — members of the First Nations Land Defence Alliance — were among those who gathered outside the Ministry of Mines building in Toronto.
"Ontario has a duty to accommodate our First Nations," Wayne Moonias, former chief of Neskantaga First Nation, said during the rally.
"Ontario is the Crown that has that legal obligation to work with our First Nations to make sure that they're involved, they're engaged, and more importantly, they work out a relationship that's respectful, and that's not happening today."
Moonias said the group is "imploring" the current provincial government and future governments to respect their rights.
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"We have a flawed system in the environmental assessment process," he said. "Our communities and our people are not considered in those processes.
"Their voice, for example, is not something that's respected, and that has to change especially when you're dealing with what we're facing."
Northern Ontario, especially its Ring of Fire region in the James Bay lowlands in Treaty 9, is expected to be a key supplier of the raw minerals in Ontario's effort to capitalize on the growing demand for critical minerals crucial to new electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Thursday's rally is the latest in a series of recent developments from northern First Nations to bring attention to their issues with the proposed development in their traditional territories and concerns they're not being properly consulted:
- In March, some of the alliance's leadership walked out of the Ontario Legislature following a heated exchange about mining.
- In April, chiefs from 10 communities launched a lawsuit taking the provincial and federal governments to court over land decisions.
Premier Doug Ford and Greg Rickford, the province's minister of Indigenous affairs, have long maintained the government is open to consultation and building consensus when it comes to northern development.
That position was restated by a spokesperson for Mines Minister George Pirie, in a statement to CBC News on Wednesday evening.
"Our government will always work with Indigenous communities, including the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation, to to achieve healthy communities, good jobs and economic prosperity," Wes Austin wrote in an email.
"The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that Ontario can authorize development within the Treaty 3 area in Ontario, including in relation to resource development projects, subject to satisfaction of the province's obligations in respect of Aboriginal Peoples, including the duty to consult," he said. "We will continue working toward consensus on resource development opportunities."
The First Nations Land Defence Alliance said in a media release that the province is granting mining claims without First Nations consent, and is now "trying to fast track dangerous mine approvals, delay safe closure plans, and build environmentally disastrous roads."
Cecilia Begg, head councillor of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, said First Nations are trying to raise more awareness to younger members about the issues.
"We have an abundance of resources that are still intact, and we want to keep them that way as long as we can," she said.
In a statement to media, Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa said he stands with the land defence alliance.
"No project should proceed without the free, prior and informed consent of First Nations," the statement said. "The Ontario NDP and I join these Nations in calling on Premier Ford to end the 'free entry' system and instead take a nation-to-nation approach to all mining activities."
"Meaningful consent is not only vital for reconciliation; it is an absolute must in our quest to safeguard the land and water that sustain all life."