Leaders from four First Nations in northern Ontario returned to Queen’s Park on Tuesday to fight mining activity on their lands, and they are criticizing Premier Doug Ford for offering Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford to meet with them instead.
Members of the First Nations Land Defense Alliance, formed earlier this year in response to the increase in mineral rights at stake in their traditional territories, held a news conference Tuesday morning.
The alliance says the chiefs invited Ford to meet with them last week in front of the Legislature, to sign a statement pledging to end mining activity on their lands without their free, prior and informed consent. Rickford, Minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs, wrote to them on Friday and agreed to meet with them.
But alliance leaders rejected the offer to meet with Rickford, and a Grassy Narrows adviser said they “took it as an insult” and wanted to meet with Ford.
“It is Ford who sets his government’s policies and he is the one who has been saying he wants to proceed with [the] Ring of Fire and other mining activities,” Grassy Narrows boss Rudy Turtle said during Tuesday morning’s press conference.
According to Turtle, “there are about 5,000 mining concessions in our traditional territory alone, and they didn’t tell us properly and in fact they gave them permission without any free, prior and informed consent on our part, so we are not very happy with that”. “.
The Ring of Fire area is of particular concern
Members of the First Nations alliance are Grassy Narrows, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Muskrat Dam, Neskantaga and Wapekeka First Nations. All but Muskrat Dam were at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
They are particularly concerned about the Ring of Fire, a mineral-rich area in Treaty 9 territory where major mining and infrastructure projects have been proposed.
When asked what the alliance would do if the province moves forward with mining exploration, Turtle said they will set up blockades if necessary.
“That’s not our preference; we prefer to sit at the table and, hopefully, [Ford is] smart enough to do that. But if he just keeps his word and bulldozes his way, then I can tell you he will encounter resistance,” Turtle said.
Ford questioned about bosses’ meeting request
Shortly after noon ET, alliance leaders set up a table outside the Legislature and were prepared to meet with Ford so he could address their concerns, but he did not show up.
During question period, Kiiwetinoong MP Sol Mamakwa asked the prime minister if he wanted to sit at that table.
Ford did not directly answer whether he would meet with chiefs, but said he always answers phone calls and emails from First Nations leaders.
“I’ve heard First Nations communities say there has never been a prime minister who has been more accessible,” Ford said.
Mamakwa said Ford was referring to a different list of Chiefs, not those who were at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
“If you’re not willing to meet with them, it just means you don’t care about First Nations,” Mamakwa said.
Official opposition criticizes Ford’s approach
Official Opposition Leader NDP MPP Marit Stiles attended the meeting of First Nations leaders on the lawn next to Mamakwa and criticized Ford for not sitting at the table with them.
“You have tried many times to get the prime minister to come and meet with you. It is very clear that this government has not yet gotten the message and that is why we are going to continue to deliver that message,” Stiles said.
“The Prime Minister needs to hear first-hand from community members who at this time continue to live with the impact of resource extraction development on their communities,” he said.
Mamakwa called Ford’s actions oppressive and “straight out of the colonial playbook.”
At one p.m., Ford had not left to meet with the leaders.
Planned march to Queen’s Park
Along with hundreds of community members and supporters, alliance members plan to march from Grange Park to Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon to voice their concerns about mining leases they say are up for grabs without their consent.
This week’s events are the latest in a series of backlashes against mining this year: