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No Ring of Fire mining without consent, First Nations alliance demands

At a rally near Queen's Park, First Nations leaders, supported by labour and advocacy groups, called on the province to meaningfully consult on the Ring of Fire

This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

The chief of a northern First Nation is calling B-S on the province's claim that his community has been adequately consulted on the plans for mining in the Ring of Fire.

Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias was one of the key speakers at a rally held by an alliance of First Nations outside of the Ministry of Mines in Toronto on Thursday to demand the government not proceed with mining projects without full, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.

It comes after the First Nation was in court last week, asking the Ontario Superior Court to issue orders to the province concerning its duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples under the Environmental Assessment Act (“EAA”). 

"The Ford government says Ontario has met its legal obligations to consult Neskantaga during the pandemic, but those are lies," Moonias said. "That's, to be honest, bullshit."

Speaking to the crowd, he said it's not possible to consult his community when it's in the middle of a crisis.

"How can you consult somebody that has had a suicide crisis since 2013?" he asked. "How can you have a consultation with somebody that has been under a boiling water advisory for 28 years?"

But Moonias has been calling on the province — not the mining company involved — to begin consultation on his terms, in his community's language, and starting with the premier directly.

He and former chief Wayne Moonias were escorted out of Queen's Park this spring after disrupting Question Period by demanding a meeting with Doug Ford over the mining plans.

Moonias told The Trillium he still wants to meet with Ford, referring to him as the man who said he's going to "drive a bulldozer" over his community's lands.

"But I'm not going to beg," he said, adding that if Ford wants to come to Neskantaga, he would meet with him.

Neskantaga is an Ojibwe Nation over 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. The Attawapiskat River is part of its traditional territory and the proposed road to the Ring of Fire crosses the river.

The Trillium reached out to Ford's office to ask if he's considering meeting with Moonias but didn't receive a response by deadline.

Neskantaga, along with Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Grassy Narrows and Wapekeka First Nations, are part of First Nations Land Defence Alliance, which counts among its supporters advocacy groups including Amnesty International, the David Suzuki Foundation, LeadNow, Climate Strike Toronto, and Greenpeace as well as several unions such as CUPE Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. 

In a statement, NDP Indigenous and treaty relations critic MPP Sol Mamakwa lent his support for the rally.

"I stand in full solidarity with the First Nations of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Grassy Narrows, and Muskrat Dam. No project should proceed without the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations," he said. "Today, 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."

At Thursday's rally, Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle gave a speech before a banner that read No Mining On Anishinaabe Territory, calling on the government to stop issuing mining permits in order to protect the environment. 

"We've been living on this land for years and years and 1000s of years," he said. "We took care of it. We never polluted it. We never harmed it. We lived in harmony with it.

"But now we have these companies coming in clear-cutting our land, drilling holes in our land. They often say as well that the methods we use today are eco-friendly. We have better techniques now .... that's a lie. A total lie."

His community has significant experience with environmental concerns. Earlier in week, Turtle was at Queen's Park to speak with the media about a study that linked mercury contamination of the English-Wabigoon river system to high suicide rates in his community. 

Like Moonias, Turtle's called for real consultation with First Nations. However, while Moonias' message was that there will be no mining without free, prior, informed consent of First Nations, Turtle put it differently.

 "We are sending a clear message today: the message is no mining, no forestry. We want our land to stay the way it is."

Jessica Smith Cross

About the Author: Jessica Smith Cross

Reporting for Metro newspapers in five Canadian cities, as well as for CTV, the Guelph Mercury and the Turtle Island News. She made the leap to political journalism in 2016...
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