By Jim Ada
In July 2008, Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty made a handful of visionary promises. He promised to permanently protect a massive area of pristine beauty in Northern Ontario from being leveled by forestry and mining corporations. Apart from the protected land, another 225,000 acres of Boreal forest were to be tentatively opened for development but protected by strong environmental standards, including the standards of First Nations communities who have been living and hunting in the areas for thousands of years. However, as of July 2010, 35 mining companies have staked 32,000 claims. They are continuing to do research so aggressively that they are building runways for their airplanes without permission from government or from the First Nations in the area.
What has the government done in response? Premiere Mcguinty’s Ontario government has sent a 90-kilo fruit basket along with his salesman/Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle to the First Nations community in Marten Falls. In an even more aggressive step, Mcguinty himself delivered a Throne Speech saying “Your government also knows that Northern Ontarians face particular challenges, and that the global recession has had a deep impact in northern communities. In 2008, Northern Ontario became home to our first diamond mine. Your government will continue to build on that success—particularly in the region known as the Ring of Fire. It is said to contain one of the largest chromite deposits in the world.”
The discovery of chromite (estimated by a US investment report to be worth 30 billion for a single stake holder, Freewest Resources Canada) was an old fashioned eureka moment. In the middle of the Northern Boreal Forest, 500 km Northeast of Thunder Bay and 100 km west of the De Beers Victor Diamond mine, lay billions of dollars worth of chromite, copper, nickel, gold, silver, palladium, and diamonds. And somewhere in Marten Falls, a Native protestor quietly holds a sign that reads: “This Land is Our Land.”
When Chief Elijah Moonias of Marten Falls met with Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle, they shared a moose stew feast and exchanged gifts, including the Minister’s enormous fruit basket. Chief Moonias and many Marten Falls community members are not interested in positioning themselves against the development. Their official position is that if they can benefit from the mining projects, then they will support it. Up until the meeting, the Marten Falls community had set up blockades on the runways into their area of Northern Ontario. After the meeting, Chief Moonias agreed to end the blockade for six months and engage in negotiations.
What are the First Nations demanding? They want environmental-impact studies to be done, stronger links of communication with the government, ownership of a revamped airport, winter road extensions, and a guarantee of training and jobs. If they cannot secure these things within a six-month time frame, then the blockade goes back up. Many other formal plans must also be solidified before First Nations concerns will be eased. Precise permit rules need to be addressed, map staking foundations and land dispute resolutions all need to be addressed. Yet all this does not seem to faze the corporations.
Cleveland Ohio’s Cliffs Natural Resources is North America’s largest iron ore pellet producer. They have already announced a plan to build a 350 km railway to the chromite from the Nakina Community of Greenstone, Ontario. In boardroom negotiations, Cliff’s has bought up $174 million of Freewest’s resources. Cliff’s has been working on the formal side of this deal for over a year. The boys and girls with their Tonka trucks who think they can bully others in the playground are only igniting confrontations with the First Nations who are on their side playing by the rules—rules forced on them by the very groups breaking them in the first place.
The drilling, staking, and clearing of the land in this Northern country is a brutal process on the ecosystems and is an environmental disaster in itself. The mining is occurring at a pace faster than the already stipulated desire for ecological protection and cultural respect for various sites of ancient meaning. Anna Baggio of Wildlands told reporters, “There is very little government oversight, no environmental assessment process, and no mechanism for First Nations control.” She also says that the research conducted by the corporations has already destroyed a great deal of the natural habitat. Fuel spills, pollution of lakes and wetlands, and harm to the First Nations hunting grounds (home of endangered Woodland Caribou) has already occurred as a result of the outsiders’ presence.
The First Nations in Northern Ontario face a similar problem as on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where First Nations have won a hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In the Cowichan Valley of British Columbia, Crown Lands in the area are being sold off to private companies at an increasingly rapid pace despite the archeological fact that the Hul’qumi’num have been in continuous use and occupancy of this southeastern portion of Vancouver Island for more than nine thousand years. Already from the United Nations there has been an international call for decency, understanding, and recognition with respect to the government of Canada’s negotiations with its Indigenous people and the land.