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In conversation with Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias as Ontario Ring of Fire concerns abound

Chief Chris Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation is photographed in Neskantaga, Ont., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

On the shores of Attawapiskat Lake, deep in the Ring of Fire region in northern Ontario, sits Neskantaga First Nation – a community of about 350 people that can only be accessed by plane or an ice road in the winter.

Many residents, who have for years dealt with challenges including a longstanding boil-water advisory and a shortage of adequate housing, are concerned that Ontario’s desire to mine metals from the Ring of Fire could threaten Neskantaga’s way of life.

The First Nation’s chief, Chris Moonias, wants to meet with Premier Doug Ford to discuss his community’s concerns, although that has not happened. From his office in Neskantaga, where a large, orange Every Child Matters flag with his First Nation’s insignia hangs on a wall, Moonias sits down with The Canadian Press to share his thoughts.

What is Neskantaga’s position on the proposal to mine the Ring of Fire?

Neskantaga is a pro-development community. We’re not saying right out no. We just want to be part of it. We want to have jurisdiction into the area and before anything happens in our territory, in our homeland. We want to be part of the decision making. We have to know what the real benefits are and we have to know what the real impacts are.

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Will Neskantaga say yes to mining?

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Not at this time because we’re not full participants. Everything is being done according to what Ontario wants. Everything was being pushed during the pandemic, this free-entry mining. It’s like we don’t have a say at all and that doesn’t sit well with the First Nation.

Click to play video: '‘Global investors are watching,’ Premier Ford on resource development in Ontario’s Ring of Fire'
‘Global investors are watching,’ Premier Ford on resource development in Ontario’s Ring of Fire

Do you hope Doug Ford and his government will change their approach?

Not the way they’re acting now. But I hope that some day, maybe the investors will force Doug Ford to act accordingly for a First Nation’s full participation.

What about the promise of prosperity and jobs?

Jobs is a given, it’s easy to get jobs in any development. It’s automatic to get jobs. We’ve had mining in and around northwestern Ontario. You don’t see these First Nations prosper, many boil-water advisories, a lot of poverty. We got to be careful We’re always told we’ll get jobs, you will get this, you will get that, but nothing happens. That’s why we haven’t been able to really support what’s going on with the Ring of Fire. There are promises of prosperity, sure. We’ve been promised that many times before. It’s the rich getting richer. Once they’ve extracted the resources, we’re still out there with boil-water advisories, we’re still in a housing crisis, we’re still in a social crisis. It doesn’t benefit communities as of right now.

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— This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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