Thursday, May 22, 2014

June 12 Ontario Election: The Need to Establish Relations with First Nations on a Modern Historical Basis

- Philip Fernandez - May 22, 2013


The Ring of Fire is a massive deposit of chromite and other strategic minerals in Northern Ontario worth some $60 billion. Located in the traditional lands of seven First Nations, it has been the subject of debate and discussion for a number of years since it was discovered. Its development has been blocked from proceeding because the First Nations concerned have affirmed their right to a say and control over how this mineral wealth is to be developed.

As soon as the Liberal government announced its May 1 budget, Noront Resources and Cliffs Natural Resources, two large mining monopolies who are vying to realize handsome profits in the Ring of Fire, expressed their delight at the $1 billion subsidy the Liberals promised to the mining industry to contribute to the infrastructure needed to exploit this resource.

This may have been a ploy by the Liberals to win votes in Northern Ontario and suggest that the Ring of Fire will move forward if they are re-elected. 

Ring of Fire mineral deposit in Northern Ontario (click to enlarge).

All along the line the First Nations concerned have demanded that the Ring of Fire development be organized in a manner that is mutually beneficial for them as First Nations and for the people of Ontario, expressed in the concept of "revenue sharing." They have insisted that the developments only go forward on the basis of their consent, a right which all First Nations in Canada have by virtue of their being and which is recognized in international law.

First Nations in Ontario, and those in the Matawa Territory in particular, have reason for concern based on the negative example of the Victor Diamond Mine owned by the international diamond monopoly De Beers. The mine is situated near Attawapiskat First Nation and has been fully operational now for more than five years. While the mine generates close to half a billion dollars in revenue each year, the Attawapiskat First Nation receives royalties of less than one per cent of that and the Ontario government gets between four and ten per cent, which should actually be going to the Attawapiskat First Nation.

None of the high paying jobs promised to the Attawapiskat First Nation when the mine was starting up have materialized. The mine employs about 100 Cree workers from the Attawapiskat First Nation to do low-paying maintenance and other jobs while high-skilled jobs are taken by workers flown in from the outside. This has been protested by the people of Attawapiskat, 70 per cent of whom live in abject poverty while the riches of their territories are exploited to line the pockets of De Beers. Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Chiefs of Ontario last year stated that there must be a new "resource sharing arrangement" between the mining monopolies and First Nations in Ontario and that it is the responsibility of the Ontario government to pass "enabling legislation to look at how First Nations can share wealth with the settlers."


In regards to the Ring of Fire, on March 26, there was a framework agreement signed between Ontario and the nine First Nations in the Matawa Tribal Council on whose lands the Ring of Fire sits. This was a requirement set by the First Nations concerned as a first step in a community-based negotiation process which began in July 2013.

The Ontario government's responsibility in this is to defend the interests not of Noront and Cliffs, but of the First Nations and the people of Ontario. The issue of who controls and benefits from the development of the resources of Ontario is an election issue which must be addressed by all parties. It is unacceptable that the added-value produced by the working people of Ontario go to subsidize monopolies developing the Ring of Fire so that they, like De Beers, can make a killing at the expense of the local First Nations. It is unacceptable that the rights of the first peoples of Ontario to a say and control over the development of their hereditary lands and the resources on them are abrogated and they are deprived of the revenues needed for their economic development.

A new modern relationship is required between First Nations and Ontario. It must be based on a new historical basis which means that the rights of First Nations must be provided with a guarantee. Their constitutional, treaty and hereditary rights must be affirmed in real practical ways. Unless their right to be is recognized as the guiding principle, the attempts of present governments to treat them as nothing but a cost to be eliminated will not be done away with. Economic development must be based on the principle of mutual benefit and not one of colonizer and colonized.