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Federal environment minister 'considering next steps' for Ring of Fire assessment

James Bay chiefs want Indigenous-led environmental review process on Far North industrial development
Ring of Fire landscape

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault is considering “next steps” in response to the joint letter sent by First Nations chiefs last week, according to a federal government spokesperson.

Last week, Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, Neskantaga, Kashechewan and Eabametoong First Nations chiefs sent a joint letter to Guilbeault after a virtual meeting to talk about the Ring of Fire.

They expressed concerns about the Ring of Fire terms of reference for the Regional Impact Assessment in the carbon-rich peatlands known as the Breathing Lands.

“The Government of Canada recognizes the need for meaningful consultation and engagement with Indigenous peoples throughout the implementation of the Impact Assessment Act,”  Karen Fish, Impact Assessment Agency of Canada spokesperson, said in an email.

“The Minister would like to thank the Indigenous Chiefs for their letter and is considering next steps.”

Fish said the Jan. 17 meeting was productive and “provided the minister with the opportunity to interact directly with communities and hear their important perspectives regarding the regional assessment in the Ring of Fire Area.”

The Ring of Fire is a rich and remote mineral belt of nickel, copper, chromite and other metals located in Ontario's Far North region. First Nation communities along the James Bay coast have been voicing concerns about potentially negative downstream impacts from proposed mining operations.

In the letter, the chiefs said there needs to be an Indigenous-led investigation and decision-making process regarding the Breathing Lands and called Canada to restart “afresh” with Indigenous nations mutually and equally participating in developing, enforcing and leading the Regional Impact Assessment.

They called for a definitive yes or no answer from the minister by Jan. 28.

The agency is currently collecting public feedback on the draft agreement to conduct a regional assessment in the Ring of Fire area.

The original deadline to submit feedback was Feb. 1.

Indigenous groups are now asked to provide their comments by March 2, according to Fish.

“The agency is remaining flexible and will respond to requests for extensions from public organizations on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

The Friends of the Attawapiskat River group has also launched a petition demanding an Indigenous-led process and opposing the proposed Ring of Fire development and the assessment in the region. The group also called to extend the Feb. 1 deadline.

- TimminsToday