The Government of Ontario is banding behind a $3.3-billion investment to build a chromite mine, transportation corridor and processing facility in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire. Set to pave the way for a “new generation of prosperity in the north”, the investment was announced by Cliffs Natural Resources last week and is promising thousands of jobs and new infrastructure for the region.
“Ontario is blessed with an abundance of natural resources at a time in history when the world is developing faster than ever and demanding these resources,” said Rick Bartolucci, Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM). “We are taking advantage of this incredible opportunity in the Ring of Fire to further open up Northern Ontario by bringing thousands of jobs, new infrastructure and economic opportunities to cities, towns and First Nations’ communities.”
One of the more than 20 companies currently holding claims in the Ring of Fire, an area located 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay in Ontario’s Far North, Cliffs Natural Resources is an international mining and natural resources company and has set its sights on a large deposit of chromite—the key ingredient of stainless steel. The largest producer of iron ore pellets in North America and a significant producer of high and low volatile metallurgical coal, the Company will build a $1.8-billion chromite processing facility near Sudbury to create 450 construction jobs, employ 450 people when the facility is in operation and to create more than 750 additional direct and indirect employment opportunities for Northern Ontarians.
“The Ring of Fire is a tremendous investment that will bring tangible benefits for Thunder Bay and Greenstone, as well as other communities in the Northwest, including First Nations in the Ring of Fire itself,” confirmed Michael Gravelle, Natural Resources Minister and MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North. “There are significant economic opportunities to be realized for our communities including new jobs and infrastructure, training opportunities, and a range of local and regional business opportunities, all which will drive growth and increase investment for future generations.”
Despite the provincial government’s enthusiasm, not everyone is onboard with Ring of Fire development. This includes Aroland First Nation which recently filed a request for disclosure to the MNDM on information pertaining to the Cliffs’ chromite mining project under the Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act.
Situated west of Nakina in Greenstone, within the Thunder Bay district, Aroland First Nation is one of the communities that will be directly impacted from the Cliffs initiative and according to Chief Sonny Gagnon, the decision to file a freedom of information act came after the community discovered that the provincial government and Cliffs had been holding confidential meetings and concealing information. “We need to find out what has been going on behind closed doors. Our community is going to be impacted by the Cliffs project along with many others, but we are not part of these meetings, nor were local municipalities,” he said on May 7th prior to the province’s official declaration of support. “We need to find out the extent of these exclusive meetings. They are deciding the future for everyone in Northwestern Ontario without consulting any of us.”
The freedom of information request seeks records in the possession of the MNDM and any provincial department and ministry with which the MNDM participated in the decision to site the Cliffs Natural Resources Ferrochrome Production Facility in the greater Sudbury area. “This is exactly why a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment does not work for First Nations,” furthered Gagnon. “We want a negotiated Joint Review Panel, we want to fully participate, we want to protect our land, our people and exercise our Aboriginal Treaty Rights. We don’t want too be a victim of the Comprehensive Study EA and end up like Attawapiskat.”
Serious concerns were again raised by Chief Gagnon after an “11th hour meeting” on May 8th between provincial officials, Chief Gagnon and Chief Elijah Moonias of neighbouring Marten Falls First Nation. “After ignoring First Nations for months, Ontario thought they could divide and conquer us by holding an 11th hour meeting and making a few promises without our fellow Matawa Chiefs present,” the frustrated Chief offered later in the week. “Ontario needs to deal with First Nations first rather than simply taking orders from Cliffs. We want the refinery in Aroland territory and we want the highest standard of environmental review for the project.”
While the chromite project has advanced to the feasibility stage, the Company must receive provincial and federal environmental assessment approvals, consult and negotiate agreements with affected First Nations communities, work with governments to address the lack of infrastructure in the Ring of Fire and complete its commercial and technical feasibility studies before the project can break ground.