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First Nations leaders from Ring of Fire region demand meeting with Premier Ford

Members of the Land Defence Alliance, left to right, Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation, Sol Mamakwa MPP, Elder Alex Moonias from Neskantaga First Nation and Cecilia Begg from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation hold a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, September 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio. COS

Leaders of several First Nations from the Ring of Fire region in northern Ontario demanded a meeting with Doug Ford at the legislature on Tuesday, saying they needed to discuss concerns over possible mining in their territories – but the premier refused their request.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford offered to go in Ford’s stead, but that offer was rebuffed by the First Nations.

“We refuse to meet with Rickford, we want to meet with Doug Ford directly,” Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias said on the front lawn of Queen’s Park.

“We want him to sign this declaration of respect for the right for the First Nations to say no to mining in their homelands.”

Ford and his government want to mine the Ring of Fire for metals to be used as part of a vision for an end-to-end manufacturing chain for electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.

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Grassy Narrows, Wapekeka, Neskantaga, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, and Muskrat Dam First Nations have created the Land Defence Alliance in an effort to defend their territories in the Ring of Fire.

During question period at the legislature Tuesday, New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the First Nations in his riding of Kiiwetinoong, asked Ford if he would meet with the First Nations group afterward.

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Ford said he’s heard positive feedback from various First Nations communities.

“I’ve heard from the First Nations communities and they have said there’s never been a premier that’s been more accessible, returning phone calls, meeting with them,” Ford said to applause from his Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario caucus.

“Those are a different set of chiefs,” Mamakwa shot back.

Last week, the First Nations group wrote to Ford to meet them outside Queen’s Park. Ford shared the letter with Rickford, who offered to meet them.

No one from the government showed up outside the legislature to meet the First Nations on Tuesday.

The First Nations leaders say they are concerned about the increasing number of mining claims on their traditional territories and want to have input on any mining or development within the region.

“If we have to stand up physically or take some physical action, then we’re going to do that,” said Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation.

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“We’re going to be blockading, and he’ll have to meet us face to face if it comes to that, but that’s not our preference, we prefer that we sit at the table, and hopefully he’s smart enough to do that.”

Rickford said the government is committed to “building consensus and balancing the interests of the First Nations communities across that region.” But meeting outside the legislature, in front of the media, isn’t the way the government wants to do business, he said.

“Today’s opportunity reflects a set of circumstances that I just don’t believe are productive,” Rickford said.

There are three proposed roads for the Ring of Fire region. One is a road that would connect Marten Falls First Nation with the provincial highway system to the south. From that road, there would be another that would go directly to the proposed mining site, known as Eagle’s Nest and owned by Ring of Fire Metals.

A third road would connect Webequie First Nation to the mining site.

Those two First Nations are leading an environmental assessment on the road to the mining site and each is doing separate environmental assessments on the other roads.

Neither Marten Falls First Nation nor Webequie First Nation have agreed to anything beyond the environmental assessments.

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As of January 2022, there are more than 25,000 active mining claims that are held by 15 companies and individuals, the province’s Ring of Fire website says.

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