Thunder Bay

3 northern Ontario First Nations declare moratorium on Ring of Fire development

Three First Nations in northern Ontario have declared a moratorium on all development in the Ring of Fire, out of concern that a planned regional impact assessment won't be thorough enough.

Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, Neskantaga calling for thorough regional impact assessment

Three northern Ontario Indigenous communities have declared a moratorium on mining development in the Ring of Fire area. (Northern Policy Institute )

Three First Nations in northern Ontario have declared a moratorium on all development in the Ring of Fire, out of concern that a planned regional impact assessment (RIA) won't be thorough enough.

Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, and Neskantaga made the declaration on April 1.

"It's one of those critical areas," said Kate Kempton, a lawyer and spokesperson for Attawapiskat.  "We should all care very much about this. But the First Nations who live, and have always lived, and make their living and their their way in life in that area, are going to be profoundly affected."

"This is about trying to ensure that if anything happens there, it is done through a proper, full, comprehensive [RIA] and planning process with First Nations at the centre of it, rather than at the periphery of it, which is what Canada's proposing to do," she said.

Kempton said while the federal and provincial governments are planning a regional assessment for the Ring of Fire area — a chromite deposit in the James Bay Lowlands — the communities are concerned its focus will be too narrow.

"We have to look at what's really going to happen, and plan accordingly," she said. "Are there areas that should be off-limits for any development? Are there certain amounts of wetlands that if they'd be destroyed, need to be replaced or there's certain amounts of caribou pathways that need to be protected? Is there just a certain amount of the lowlands that need to be left untouched to avoid climate collapse?"

Kempton said the RIA that is planned for the area looks like it will be a "very watered-down weak version of it, that will all-but ignore First Nations except for tokenistic periphery involvement."

She said the three communities are waiting to see the terms of reference for the RIA before planning their next steps.

However, in a media release, the communities state the moratorium will be lifted if the federal and provincial governments "agree to plan and conduct the RIA on terms that respect our rights."

Kempton said,  as of Tuesday afternoon, neither government had responded to the moratorium.

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