A group of First Nations, including the communities of Grassy Narrows First Nation, are suing the government and multinational mining firm First Quantum Minerals Ltd. because they believe that their traditional land is being unfairly targeted to obtain a mining project.
Their concern is focused on its proximity to Nipigon. Nipigon is located in Ontario and further north.
Grassy Narrows First Nation is considered a rich resource in Ontario’s north, which is about 1,350 square miles in size. It’s located adjacent to the Ten Mile Mine, a gold mine which is rumored to be one of the largest open pit mines in Canada. Grassy Narrows is the most populated First Nation in the area and it has a proud traditional culture and practices, including shamanistic ceremonies, sacred wailing ceremonies, and maple syrup-making.
It’s also a powerful source of employment for the local community.
Grassy Narrows is also recognized as one of the three “last remaining original territories of the native peoples of Canada and the first nation of Ontario,” according to the country’s website.
The government of Ontario signed off on the environmental assessment of the mining project that was eventually recommended for approval by the Ministry of Environment. It required First Quantum Minerals Ltd. to get accreditation from the Ontario Environmental Assessment Board in order to run the project.
In its report, the OEAB admits that First Quantum Minerals has proposed doing “some environment assessment activities” in the area. When asked by the board if the “arrangements for notification” would make it clear, First Quantum Minerals replied “yes.”
The federal agency describes the project as “immediately” affecting aboriginal rights and title, adding that the company “committed to having an approval document” on the environmental assessment that “indicated the need for consultation with the communities impacted.”
Opponents claim that consultation could never be meaningful and approved for these claims without First Quantum Minerals having to actually satisfy any of the criteria.
This goes to the heart of one of the major problems plaguing Canada, one that’s developed as a result of the Harper Conservative government’s 2008 decision to repeal national regulatory oversight of mines.
Prior to the health care declaration, federal environmental regulations were supposed to go hand-in-hand with federal standards on health care. Before Harper removed these regulations, environmental organizations charged that they allowed mines to operate for decades in watersheds or across ponds and could contaminate drinking water sources.
Harper’s repeal of regulation left indigenous communities in the dark.
The biggest symbol of this was the Flemish Lake Ring of Fire, an important deposit of iron ore used to make things like steel, which runs through the Mauricie region in Quebec. It was discovered in 1976, and a permit was issued for First Quantum Minerals to explore that area in 1989. The mine had already been operational for decades by the time the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline was canceled in 2010.
Many of the proponents for the Nipigon project have had to make public pleas to local Indigenous communities in order to meet their objections. They include publicizing their social media handle and even speaking with an Indian Act rights liaison. The First Nation communities cited by First Quantum Minerals — Quidi Vidi, Quidi Vidi, and Athabasca — were all initially opposed to the project.
The board has given First Quantum Minerals time to remediate an area called Hartstone, which is at the site of the Flemish Lake Ring of Fire. That particular area has produced waste all the way up until 1960. However, there are also issues surrounding the operation of the Ring of Fire as a whole. The area has been under a treaty since 1905 and it was the fifth largest deposit of iron ore in the world. It once was slated to become one of the largest producing counties in North America.
The question now is will the Ontario government really support mining at Grassy Narrows, a region already putting significant economic and social strains on the community, while also understanding that its decisions have a significant, detrimental impact on the indigenous peoples of Canada? It’s not too late to support this area’s traditional occupation and culture and avoid these overly harsh consequences.
Thomas C. Lawson is CEO of the Economic Council of Canada and the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.