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Ontario Approves First Nations-led plan for the road to the Ring of Fire

Road connecting First Nations communities to provincial highway network and world-class critical mineral deposits
Northern Road Link photo
(Northern Road Link photo)

The Ontario government has approved the Terms of Reference designed and submitted by Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation for an all-season, multi-use road connecting to the proposed Ring of Fire mining development area.

The Northern Road Link will connect the two First Nations communities, and the critical mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire to the Ontario highway network, helping to secure a supply chain for electric vehicle manufacturing in Ontario.

The province made the announcement March 6 at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) annual convention in Toronto.

“I want to thank Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation for leading the Environmental Assessment for this essential road corridor. I value our partnership with these strong leaders who are central to our government’s mandate to develop the Ring of Fire,” Mines Minister George Pirie said in a March 6 news release.

“The Ring of Fire has the critical minerals we need to build our manufacturing supply chain, including nickel for electric vehicles and chromite for clean steel. Our government’s investments in innovation and infrastructure are creating jobs across the entire province, including northern and Indigenous communities.”

Ontario has dedicated close to $1 billion to support critical legacy infrastructure in the Ring of Fire area including constructing all‑season roads, investing in high-speed internet, road upgrades, and community supports.

Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations are co-leading the planning of the Northern Road Link project as part of a historic partnership with the province. The project will connect the Ring of Fire’s critical mineral deposits with manufacturing hubs in the south, paving the way for made-in-Ontario supply chains for batteries and electric vehicles.

"The Northern Road Link has the potential to become a critical transportation linkage for remote First Nations in Ontario, but these opportunities must also be balanced against the potential environmental and socio-cultural risks associated with building a road,” Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse said in the release.

“Our Indigenous-led approach has been designed to study the project’s potential impacts and effects, as well as alternatives and possible mitigations, and most importantly, to allow First Nations people to make informed decisions about the future development of their traditional lands. This project has the potential to finally bring economic reconciliation for remote First Nations in Ontario, and we are proud to be at the forefront of this planning process with our sister nation in Marten Falls."

"On behalf of the community, I am very pleased we have reached this significant milestone with the approval of the Terms of Reference for the Northern Road Link Environmental Assessment. I am grateful for all the hard work undertaken by my community, but we still have much work to do. With today’s approval, we can now roll up our sleeves, continue to significantly engage and consult with neighbouring communities and stakeholders throughout the process in a meaningful way, and complete the studies to help determine any impacts to the environment as part of the Environmental Assessment process,” Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum said in the release.

“For our community, and our neighbours who wish to participate, this proposed development represents a path towards economic reconciliation. We are excited about this regional development because of what it means for our future, particularly for our youth. We are moving forward to create significant and meaningful opportunities for them. I am confident we can share these opportunities with our neighbours. I look forward to a brighter future, not only for my own community, but also for our neighbours in the region."

During the PDAC convention, the province also announced recipients of the Critical Minerals Innovation Fund. The $5-million fund is supporting Ontario-based companies that are leading the development of new mining technologies focused on building the critical minerals supply chain. These companies are doing groundbreaking work to solve supply chain challenges in exploration, mining and processing.

Critical minerals projects receiving funding include:

  • $500,000 to Frontier Lithium Inc. to help develop innovative lithium processing techniques and establish lithium mining and mineral processing in Ontario for use in battery and EV manufacturing supply chains;
  • $500,000 to Vale Canada Ltd. to develop bioleaching techniques for reprocessing tailings to extract nickel and cobalt from mine waste and to help increase battery metals supply;
  • $500,000 to Ring of Fire Metals Pty Ltd. to test the feasibility of repurposing and storing all tailings materials underground in the form of backfill in mine workings;
  • $500,000 to EV Nickel Inc. to demonstrate that bioleach extraction and recovery of battery metals such as Nickel and Cobalt is a lower cost, low carbon footprint process with less environmental impacts; and 
  • $475,000 to Carbonix Inc. – an Indigenous-owned company – to help refine the process for converting mining waste, petroleum coke and other byproducts into high-energy density graphite for use in battery anode and cathode supply chains.