Ring of Fire could damage grave, cultural sites, student says
Peawanuck First Nation member Jennifer Wabano launches letter campaign
A member of Peawanuck First Nation near Ontario's Hudson Bay coast says the Ring of Fire mining development will affect her family's traditional lands.
Jennifer Wabano said neither her family nor other members of Peawanuck, (also known as Weenusk), have been consulted by the province or the mining companies about the impact the project could have on graves and cultural sites.
"The land use planning that was done is not complete," Wabano said. "There were no meetings, no presentations on information about it with community members.
"With the land use planning and the land use study there are sites, like burial grounds and sacred sites that weren't included," Wabano added.
Concerns about burial grounds
The college student in Timmins has written letters to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Mushkegowuk Council expressing her concerns. Now she's launching a petition, seeking signatures from other community members in affected First Nations.
"There is no consultation," Wabano said. "Meaningful consultation is when everybody is included, the elders, all the residents in the community so they can be aware of what's going on, because the chiefs can't speak for me especially when it comes to my grandfather's traditional territory or my great-grandfather's final resting place."
A spokesperson for Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said Ontario is currently focused on engaging the First Nations in the Matawa region, closest to the Ring of Fire.
But the email response to CBC News continued, saying the province is "fully committed to a wider engagement strategy with our First Nation partners to drive smart, sustainable and collaborative development in the Ring of Fire, subject to the environmental assessment, regulatory approvals and the Crown meeting its duty to consult."
'At what cost?'
Wabano said Cree communities on the James Bay coast are connected to the rivers that flow through the Ring of Fire: Peawanuck is linked to Webequie; Neskantaga to Attawapiskat and Marten Falls to Fort Albany.
"I know [the Ring of Fire] will affect the river," she said.
Wabano said she was inspired to protect the land by the teachings she received from her grandmother.
"They left that river for us, for the generations that are yet to come because we still use that land for traditional purposes, especially for the medicines in the area and the fish. Most people back home, that's what they live off is wild foods."
Wabano said she has heard the economic arguments for the Ring of Fire, but she isn't swayed by the promise of jobs.
"I can understand how some people want economic development but at what cost? What are we leaving for our future great-grandchildren? That's what I want to protect."