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Neskantaga First Nation taking province to court over lack of consultation on Ring of Fire mine road

Ojibwe community accuses government of disregarding their consultation protocols on development
Neskantaga 2
(Neskantaga First Nation Facebook photo)

Neskantaga First Nation, a remote Ojibwe community in the James Bay region, is launching a legal challenge against the Ontario government to oppose, what it calls, "reckless mining development in the Ring of Fire."

The community leadership tweeted the announcement Nov. 25 with additional details on their action provided through the Raven Trust website, an online portal that raises legal funds for Indigenous people to defend their rights and title to their traditional lands.

By launching a legal challenge to defend its "constitutionally protected right," Neskantaga leadership said it's demanding "meaningful consultation and respect for our laws"

Located 436 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, the community contends that while its leadership was dealing with multiple crises, the Ontario government "imposed impossible deadlines" and ignored Neskantaga's laws and protocols when it comes to natural resource projects in its territory.

Neskantaga accuses the Ontario government of failing to fulfil its duty to consult and accommodate, by carrying out consultation in such a way "that made it difficult if not impossible for Neskantaga to participate."

According to its community decision-making protocols, Neskantaga said the whole community must be brought together to discuss and consider proposed development projects in its traditional territory, something that was not possible during the pandemic.

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Neskantaga's leadership contends that while they've dealing with pandemic-related lockdowns, a boil-water advisory that's lasted 25 years, and community evacuations, the provincial government "started the clock" on advancing the road and mining development in the Ring of Fire while neglecting to "accommodate the multiple crises the Nation was facing."

In recent weeks, the Ontario government issued a notice of commencement for the environmental assessment of the first segment of the access road into the Ring of Fire mineral belt, a large crescent-shaped string of claims, roughly 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, containing chromite, nickel, copper, platinum, vanadium, zinc and gold.

Two Australian-based mining companies, BHP and Wyloo Metals, are discussing a potential deal for BHP, the world's largest mining company, to acquire Noront Resources and its Eagle's Nest deposit, considered the most mine-ready project in the region.

Neskantaga wants the court to clarify the First Nations consultation process that must be followed under the Environmental Assessment Act, to ensure the Crown fulfils its duty to consult and accommodate.

"The Neskantaga people are now being forced to go to court to defend and protect their homeland, their river, their way of life, their laws and their community decision-making process," former Chief Christopher Moonias said in a tweet.

In recent weeks, Moonias has been directing social media barbs at the provincial government and Premier Doug Ford, insisting no roads or mines will be built on his community's "homelands" unless informed consent is given through "meaningful engagement and participation" of the people in the region who will be impacted by development.

Moonias was especially offended at Ford's remarks this month that community consultations with First Nations have been happening "right from day one."

"I live on the Attawapiskat River where the proposed so-called Ring of Fire is. There has not been any consultation. We will not let them cross our river. What a f------ idiot of him to say these things," Moonias tweeted.