Gravesite disturbances and other questions are being raised about the ongoing Ring of Fire railway survey.
April 29, 2010: Volume 37 #9, Page A16
While Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias could not speak about the gravesite disturbances he had recently discovered in his traditional territory because a lawyer was currently looking into the issue, other leaders and chiefs in the Ring of Fire area spoke about their concerns with the incident.
“It is really unfortunate that this has occurred,” said Matawa First Nations CEO David Paul Achneepineskum in a press release. “The Matawa First Nations communities and its leaders continue to voice that we are open for business, but our communities wish to make it known that if there is going to be any development on our lands, we are going to play an active role throughout the entire process. This is to ensure burial sites, customary lands, and other sacred areas are identified and protected. What happened in Marten Falls is simply unacceptable; the mining industry needs to be respectful of our land.”
Moonias discovered cut-down trees in an area where gravesites are located on traditional lands near his community, which is one of the nine Matawa First Nations communities.
Achneepineskum spoke about the need for the Ontario government to consult with Matawa’s communities before any permits are approved.
“We also want to make it clear that before any permits are given by the Ontario Government they must consult with our First Nations; this will eliminate mistakes like this incident,” Achneepineskum said. “This is not the first time that a grave site has been desecrated by development with our First Nations territory.”
Aroland Chief Sonny Gagnon emphasized the need for ongoing communication between the communities and resource developers.
“We know this land better than anyone else,” Gagnon said. “Ongoing communication is needed between our communities and developers on our land to make certain all issues are raised and addressed. This will lead to a respectful relationship and bring about a sense of historic and cultural understanding.”
Earlier this year Matawa First Nations unveiled the Interim Mineral Measures Process, which provides guidelines on how communities interact with the mineral exploration and mining industry and brings new ideas to terms like consultation and accommodation.
“We have protocols and processes in place that need to be followed and respected,” said Nibinamik Chief Roger Oskineegish. “Mining companies and developers need to work with our First Nations to ensure transparency.”
Moonias is concerned about how the mining exploration companies are continuing with their surveying and exploration work even though his community is trying to work on land use plans.
“The province is letting the exploration continue even as we try to do the planning,” Moonias said.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Wildlands League also expressed concerns about the length of time the provincial government is taking to begin implementing land use planning in the Ring of Fire area.
“We are urging the province to put the resources in place so that the First Nations in partnership with Ontario can actually lead land-use planning for the whole region and produce a land-use plan that looks at all the values of the land and not just one particular industry,” said Anna Baggio, the Wildlands League’s director of conservation land use planning.
Baggio is looking at a model where First Nations would identify critically important sites such as the cut-over gravesite area Moonis discovered, decide the best use for the region, and plan the best routes for transportation corridors such as the railway route currently being surveyed by KWG Resource Inc.’s subsidiary Canada Chrome Corporation.
“We need the province to step up, make this regional planning process happen, make sure the First Nations are going to have a meaningful say,” Baggio said, explaining that the current situation is not fair to the individual communities because they do not have the resources and capacity to take on the companies. “It should have happened yesterday.
“We need to get it going right now. Frankly, these conflicts have been bubbling up for some time.”
Diligence needed in planning: Baggio
Baggio wants to see rules put in place by the provincial government to protect the land and resources.
“We need to get the new rules in place and make sure folks know that if they operate in this part of Ontario they need a land use plan first,” Baggio said. “And that it is in your interest to get a land use plan going and to support the First Nations in getting land use planning. That is what we are hoping to see immediately.”
Baggio wants to see comprehensive conversations about clean water, about access, about habitat for migratory birds and endangered species, about how First Nations people are going to protect land for their own purposes, such as spirituality, hunting or fishing.
“Then we can talk about where the best spot for some of this mining activity,” Baggio said. “As long as Ontario allows all this mining activity to happen ahead of and outside of land use planning, it’s just more chaos.”
Baggio is also concerned about the current situation where mining exploration companies are planning railway routes before proper land use plans are in place.
“The problem is the more work they are able to do ahead of land use planning on this railway, the more they are pre-determining the outcomes of land use planning,” Baggio said. “That is why we need to get land use planning going now so folks can actually have a say as opposed to these companies just determining things all on their own.”
KWG is currently planning to investigate how the incident happened in the gravesite area.
“We are going to conduct our own internal investigation to see how this happened and also map out exactly what did happen,” said M.J. (Moe) Lavigne, vice president exploration and development with KWG. “We are concerned about this because we don’t like to have this happen as well.”
Lavigne expressed concerns about the lack of documentation of land values in the area.
“What’s not in place is good documentation of where all of the values are, so there is no framework for us to be able to work up there,” Lavigne said. “It has been done sort of in a piecemeal way throughout northwestern Ontario and some First Nations have advanced and developed fairly comprehensive land use plans but at a fairly huge cost.”
KWG has to determine whether their mineral project is economically viable before the company can proceed further.
“To be operational, it has to have a bulk transportation method for getting the chromite ore out from there,” Lavigne said, explaining if the cost of the railway project in addition with cost of the chromite mine project is too high, the project will never make money and nobody would ever invest in it. “Before we get too far ahead with all this integrated land use planning and infrastructure planning, we need to know whether or not building this railroad is an economic project.”
KWG doesn’t want to raise people’s levels of expectations in case the project doesn’t fly, Lavigne said.
“Having said that, we are fairly confident at the minute with the information we do have that it is economically viable,” Lavigne said.
The KWG railway project would have to undergo a rigorous environmental assessment once it is defined and ready to be submitted, said Bernie Hughes, director of the Aboriginal Relations Unit, Mines and Minerals Division, Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.
“Certainly the company can move ahead and are moving ahead on a feasibility study for a possible or potential transportation corridor or railroad,” Hughes said. “A project like that is certainly going to go under a rigorous environmental assessment. If the company wants to go ahead with a feasibility study, certainly they are able to do that. It is certainly something that will come under environmental assessment once they are ready to submit it to environmental assessment.”
The purpose of an environmental assessment is to develop an understanding of all the interest groups, to discuss those interests and to balance those interests.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation chiefs called for prior informed consent with conditions before business is conducted in their territories during the NAN Winter Chiefs Assembly.
“Anna (Baggio) is correct in that the resource developers are trying to get ahead of the legislation and trying to stake claim or ownership to large vast lands for potential resource extraction,” said NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy. “At the last NAN chiefs meeting the chiefs passed a resolution that states that for any outside interests to do business with Nishnawbe Aski, free prior and informed consent is required now by outside interests.”
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