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Matawa chiefs push back against U.S. military agenda in the Ring of Fire

First Nation leaders demand a big say over any industrial development on their James Bay homelands
(Webequie Supply Road photo)

Toronto media reports about talks between the U.S. military, mining interests and government about funding development in the Ring of Fire has angered Indigenous communities in Ontario’s Far North.

The leadership of the Matawa First Nations are asserting their sovereignty, rights and jurisdiction over their traditional territories in the mineral-rich James Bay region. Chiefs from across Ontario met this week at their fall assembly in Toronto and are lending their support.

In a news release, the Matawa Chiefs’ Council contend that while Queen’s Park, Ottawa and Washington are devising their “resource development agendas” to develop a domestic critical minerals supply chain for their strategic and national security interests, the rights and interests of the James Bay communities will not be ignored.

“The agenda must be First Nations-driven and not determined by government, industry and environmental interests only,” said Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum in a statement. His community is one of two proponents of a road network into the remote area of the province.

The signatories to a statement released by Matawa include communities supporting industrial development in the Ring of Fire and those against.

The council represents nine Indigenous communities in northwestern Ontario and the area of the James Bay region where, potentially, road-building and mine construction could take place in an area that has never had industrial development. Engineering and environmental assessments are currently underway.

In a statement, Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias said, “as rights holders in our homelands,” it is “imperative” that the voices of his membership and their community protocols be respected.

“First Nations are waiting for the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario to demonstrate the proper respect and for an appropriate government-to-government relationship and dialogue to be established,” Moonias said in a news release.

In one media report, discussions with the Pentagon was acknowledged by Wyloo Metals chief executive Luca Giacovazzi. Australian-based Wyloo is the parent company of the former Noront Resources, now dubbed Ring of Fire Metals, the most advanced exploration company operating in the region.

Media reports say these discussions are related to the Biden Administration’s eagerness to establish a North American supply chain of critical minerals like nickel, copper and platinum group metals that feed the electric vehicle battery manufacturers and the high tech industry to counter international threats from China.

Eabametoong Chief Sol Atlookan said the rights and interests of his members “will be respected,” especially if road and mine development presents risks that changes their homelands. He wants a new approach with “shared decision-making and real commitment to positive generational change driven by our people.”

In the statement, the Matawa Chiefs Council said with the constantly evolving situation with the Ring of Fire, they reserve the right to “continually reassess positions and statements as required in order to protect and implement the rights and interests of their members”