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The Ring of Fire, First Nations and the rebirth of mining

By Stan Sudol The mood at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto this past March was definitely more upbeat and promising.

By Stan Sudol

The mood at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto this past March was definitely more upbeat and promising. As the world’s major economies start to recover from last year’s market crash and the collapse of commodity prices, most observers agree that China’s insatiable appetite for metals will continue.

Without a doubt, Ontario’s mining sector was one of the top discussions at this year’s PDAC. The Ring of Fire mining camp, located in themuskeg swamps of the James Bay Lowlands, 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, has almost singlehandedly heralded the rebirth of Ontario mining industry.

“For the 21st century, the discovery of chromite in the Ring of Fire could be as big as the discovery of nickel was in Sudbury in the 19th century. We are fully committed to working with Aboriginal peoples and Northern Ontarians to build on the Ring of Fire’s potential,” the March 2010 Ontario Budget speech boldly claimed.

Tentative plans by Cleveland-based iron ore producer Cliffs Natural Resources call for a $1.3 billion investment including a concentrator, ferrochrome processing facility and a $600- million, 350-kilometre rail line in the north. Chromite, when smelted into ferrochromium alloys, is used in the production of stainless steel. There are no chromite mines in North America.

Thousands of construction jobs and promise of full-time employment for many Aboriginal communities in the North are welcome news to a region and province facing high unemployment and record budget deficits.

At a luxurious mining gala held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel – the mining sector’s version of theAcademy Awards – the five men responsible for the Ring of Fire were given the prestigious PDAC Prospectors of the Year Award.

John D. Harvey, mining consultant;Donald Hoy; former Freewest’s VP Exploration, Richard Nemis, previous President and CEO Noront Resources; Neil D. Novak, president and CEO Spider Resources; and Mac Watson, former Freewest President and CEO were recognized for the significant base-metals and chromite discoveries in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire.

Sudbury-born Richard Nemis says, “My heart will always belong to Northern Ontario. It gives me great pleasure to see the potentially enormous economic boost the Ring of Fire discovery will have on the North, on Aboriginal communities and hopefully, on Sudbury’s world-class mining supply and service industry.”

Nemis is an ardent Johnny Cash fan and he was the promotional genius who nicknamed the discovery Ring of Fire. The area has the unique shape of a broken circle or crescent while the original deposits were the result of magma or molten rock from huge volcanic action.

He continues, “In fact, I think the Ring of Fire will rival the Sudbury basin and the economic impact of this discovery on the Ontario economy will probably run into the hundreds of billions of dollars over time!”

The next day at the PDAC Aboriginal Forum, Ontario Minister for Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle said, “I’m glad to see so many of you here today because the PDAC is an excellent venue for fostering collaboration. The industry can be a catalyst for an economic revival in many of our Aboriginal communities while developing superb mineral deposits.”

There was a sense at this year’s PDAC that the tide is turning in the relationships between Aboriginal communities and the mining sector.

The conflict between Platinex Inc. and the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KI) over the Big Trout Lake Property was the exception, not the rule. The province recently settled outstanding lawsuits. Of course the southern media highlighted the conflict which allowed environmentalists to infer that Aboriginal communities were anti-mining.

Over the past two decades, success stories like De Beers Canada’s Victor diamond mine near Attawapiskat and Goldcorp Canada’s Musselwhite gold mine, both in the same region as the Ring of Fire, have proved that the mining companies do what they say and keep their promises.

However, there is still much work and negotiating to be done and the mining sector cannot singlehandedly wipe out all poverty, but the industry is working hard to ensure that Aboriginal communities gain enormous benefits from these developments.

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant who writes extensively on the mining industry.
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