Thunder Bay

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation wants in on Ring of Fire talks

One day into his new role and fresh challenges are cropping up for the province's negotiator, Frank Iacobucci, in the Ring of Fire.

Ontario can't ignore other First Nation concerns, NAN deputy chief says

Ontario will negotiate with the nine First Nations closest to Northern Ontario's Ring of Fire mineral deposits.

One day into his new role and fresh challenges are cropping up for the province's negotiator in the Ring of Fire.

Ontario appointed former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci on Tuesday as it's negotiator in talks with the nine Matawa chiefs whose communities are closest to the proposed mining development.

Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae is representing those chiefs in the planned talks. But the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says it needs a seat at the table too.

"This is not just a specific regional project, in fact it is a treaty-wide impact and I think that's what the province needs to recognize," NAN deputy chief Les Louttit. "We would like to see a broader negotiation framework."

Lessons from Attawapiskat

Nishnawbe Aski Nation represents 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario. Louttit said communities on the James Bay coast, downstream of the proposed mining development, are especially concerned about environmental impacts.

That's also the area that has learned hard lessons about the mining industry from its experience with the diamond mine near Attawapiskat, he said.

"We cannot simply keep going the way we have in the past," Louttit said. "We know that because we were involved in the Debeers Victor project negotiations."

The deputy grand chief said he'd welcome a phone call from Iacobucci as a starting point for including the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in the negotiations for the Ring of Fire.

But the new negotiator wasn't prepared to discuss the details of his role when reached by CBC News Tuesday, shortly before a briefing on the Ring of Fire.

"We're all going to do our best to get the proper arrangements in place that are respectful, fair and honourable," Iacabucci said of his vision of the job.

Miners may get a say in talks

Iacabucci reports directly to Ontario's Minister of Northern Development and Mines.

Michael Gravelle said for now, the negotiations are geared specifically to discussions with the nine Matawa First Nations as a response to their requests for the province to address treaty rights before mining begins.

Areas of negotiation will include environmental protection and monitoring, regional infrastructure planning and development, resource revenue sharing and social and economic supports.

Gravelle said he's holding seperate discussions with the federal government about its responsibilty to deal with the living conditions in the First Nations so that they're prepared to take advantage of the economic opportunities the mines may bring.

"We are going to be certainly encouraging [the federal government], if not asking them, to become involved," Gravelle said. "There are very clearly some jurisdictional opportunities for the federal government."

As for industry, they may be included in the negotations at a later date, Gravelle said.

Cliffs Natural Resources, the biggest player in the Ring of Fire, declined to comment on Iacobucci's appointment, but Noront Resources issued a statement on Tuesday.

"We look forward to his counsel and collaboration as we move ahead on this very exciting opportunity for the region," said Noront Chairman and Interim CEO Paul Parisotto. "Having the right conversations is essential for successful development in the Ring of Fire. We are eager to see a workable infrastructure solution that will allow us to bring our mine into production..."

Noront is hoping to develop an east-west access corridor to its proposed mine in the area, while Cliffs is pushing a north-south road.