People from five northern First Nations gathered outside Queen’s Park on Thursday to call for a halt to provincial mining exploration on traditional land, saying the Ontario government has failed in its obligation to consult.
Leaders of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Grassy Narrows and Muskrat Dam First Nations, members of the First Nations Land Defense Alliance, were among those who gathered outside the Ministry of Mines building in Toronto.
“Ontario has a duty to accommodate our First Nations,” Wayne Moonias, former chief of the Neskantaga First Nation, said during the rally.
“Ontario is the Crown that has a legal obligation to work with our First Nations to make sure they are involved, engaged, and most importantly, establish a respectful relationship, and that is not happening today.”
Moonias said the group is “imploring” the current and future provincial governments to respect their rights.
“We have a flawed system in the environmental assessment process,” he said. “Our communities and our people are not considered in these processes.
“Her voice, for example, is not something to be respected, and that has to change, especially when you’re dealing with what we’re dealing with.”
Northern Ontario, especially its Treaty 9 James Bay lowland Ring of Fire region, is expected to be a key supplier of raw minerals in Ontario’s effort to capitalize on growing demand for critical minerals crucial for new electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Thursday’s rally is the latest in a series of recent events by Northern First Nations to draw attention to their problems with proposed development on their traditional territories and concerns that they are not being adequately consulted:
Breaking: reached out to spokespersons for the province for comment but did not receive a response by press time. But Prime Minister Doug Ford and Greg Rickford, the province’s indigenous affairs minister, have long maintained that the government is open to consultation and consensus-building on northern development.
In a press release, the First Nations Land Defense Alliance said the province is granting mining concessions without First Nations consent, and is now “trying to speed up approvals for dangerous mines, delay safe closure plans and build environmentally disastrous roads.”
Cecilia Begg, senior counselor for the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, said First Nations are trying to raise more awareness among younger members of the issues.
“We have a lot of resources that are still intact, and we want to keep them that way for as long as we can,” he said.
In a statement to the media, Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa said he supports the land defense alliance.
“No project should proceed without the free, prior and informed consent of First Nations,” the statement said. “The Ontario NDP and I join these nations in calling on Prime Minister 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 necessity in our quest to safeguard the land and water that support all life.”