By Delaney Windigo
APTN National News
TORONTO–Some chiefs in the Ring of Fire are expressing disappointment after First Nations were excluded from a board that deals with infrastructure development in their territory.
Chief Peter Moonias from the Neskantaga First Nation said the move was “not in good faith.” Especially, after a historic framework agreement was signed between the nine Matawa- member First Nations and the province just months ago.
“The relationship part is what is important in that framework,” said Moonias.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines made a promise in July that the province would create a Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corporation. The province has delivered on that promise. However, the announcement of the interim board consists of four civil servants and has no First Nation representation. The purpose of the corporation is to bring together First Nations, the public and private sectors and assist in the decision making for infrastructure development.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said he’s spoken to some chiefs in the region who have expressed concern over the province’s actions.
“The (provincial) government is moving forward unilaterally, yet they keep saying that partnership with First Nations is a priority,” said Yesno.
The Ring of Fire is a region in Northern Ontario, home to one of the world’s largest chromite deposits. Chromite is the mineral used to make stainless steel and it’s estimated there are billions of dollars worth of chromite in the region.
Development in the Ring of Fire has been slow to get off the ground. Before any mining occurs there has to be co-operation by all parties involved, that includes First Nations, industry and the Ontario government.
Another major hurdle that needs to be overcome before mining can begin, is building the necessary infrastructure. Building the roads and other structures required to move the chromite out of the territory is expected to cost at least $2 billion.
So far, the province has pledged $1 billion towards infrastructure development in the last provincial budget. However, it’s waiting on the federal government and other stakeholders to put forward additional capital to fund the project.
“This government wants to appear that they’re are starting to move forward and so on but in doing that it’s begun to alienate the very partners that they say will be a priority,” said Yesno.
Since several First Nation communities live in the Ring of Fire region, some chiefs say they want to be treated as equal partners when it comes to any decision making and if that doesn’t happen they will withdraw their support of the project.
“Do you think development is going to be happening if the First Nation involvement is not there? I don’t think so,” said Moonias.