The Ring of Fire refers to the massive planned chromite mining and smelting development project in the mineral-rich James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario, which is the "third largest wetland in the world" (Gov. of Ontario, n.d.). This is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and Omushkego (Cree) territory (Leahy, 2014). Challenges facing the development of the Ring of Fire include lack of access to the remote region, infrastructure deficits such as roads, railway, electricity and broadband, First Nations land rights, and environmental issues (Rocha E. et al., 2013). In 2010 and 2011 several blockades were set up by Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations. The Ontario Government has been using divide and conquer tactics in attempts to weaken opposition by First Nations.
The Ring of Fire has been considered "one of the largest potential mineral reserves in Ontario" with "more than 35 junior and intermediate mining and exploration companies covering an area of about "1.5 million hectares" (Matawa FN, 2013).
By 2010, there were more than 30,000 claim units in the 5,000-square-kilometre area (Canadian press, 2010). Tony Clement called the Ring of Fire "the oil sands of Ontario" (Tencer, D., 2013), with a potential of generating $120 billion (Matawa FN, 2013).
Proponents claim the projects will "create jobs and generate growth and long-term prosperity for northern Ontario and the nation" (McKie, D., 2013).
First Nation opposition to exploration activities is based on concerns regarding access roads, lack of
adequate consultation, lack of respect for previous agreements as well as
environmental concerns including impacts to fish and caribou habitat.
"The Ring is located in the heart of an irreplaceable environmental treasure. And over 24,000 First Nations people scattered in 34 small communities call these their ancestral lands. They depend on wild fish and animals for food and have inherent rights to the land. This wilderness of trees, wetlands, lakes and rivers is part of the planet’s largest intact forest. It supports hundreds of plant, mammal and fish species, most in decline elsewhere, and is the continent’s main nesting area for nearly 200 migratory birds. As one of the world’s largest storehouses of carbon, it helps keep climate change in check" (Wilderness League, n.d.).
The First Nations chiefs are concerned that building roads into the region will open up the Far North to “uncontrolled mining development” that will bring pollution and change their way of life (Northern Ontario Business, 2018).
"First Nations in the Ring of Fire are some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in all of Canada. Chronic housing shortages, low education outcomes and lack of access to clean drinking water jeopardize the ability of local First Nations to benefit from the significant economic, employment and business development opportunities associated with the Ring of Fire developments"(McKie, D., 2013).
A 2015 Ontario Chamber of Commerce report argues that " years of delay have "soured" public perceptions of the region as a viable economic investment" (Canadian Press, 2015).
In 2019, Minister Rickford said the Ring of Fire development process has been
“complicated and overburdened with bureaucracy... all-talk, no-action...with no shovels in the ground after a decade of discussion"(Ross, 2019). He spoke of forming a “coalition” of willing partners among First Nation communities and municipalities who support the construction of an access road (Ross, 2019).
August 2007: Noront Resources announced the discovery of a "large find"
of "high grade deposit" of platinum, palladium, nickel, and copper 500 kilometres (310 mi) northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Its underground mine project is called the Eagle's Nest Project
2003 : Noront Resources began using two frozen lakes—Koper Lake, located about 128 kilometres (80 mi) north of Marten Falls, and McFaulds Lake—as landing strips without consulting Martens Falls and Webequie First Nations (Younglai etal, 2015).
January 2010: Community members and representatives from Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations set up a blockade on the landing strips at Koper and McFaulds Lakes (Talaga, 2010), protesting the lack of consultation with their Nations.
March 2010: The blockades were lifted
after band leaders said they had received positive responses to their concerns from the mining companies (Canadian Press, 2010).
April 2010: The government of Ontario announced
that it would open a large chromite deposit in the area to development.
Ontario's Ministry of Northern Development and Mines created the Ring of Fire Secretariat.
2011: The Marten Falls First Nation erected a blockade seeking the immediate termination of all exploration activity by all companies operating in the Ring of Fire (Murray, J. 2011 a).
2012: BY this time, there were 30,000 claims, 35 prospecting companies, and significant discoveries of chromium, copper, zinc, nickel, platinum, vanadium and gold; there were only two major development proposals, Noront Resources's Eagle's Nest Project and Cliffs Natural Resources.
May 2012: Cliffs Natural Resources announced a "$3.3-billion investment to build a chromite mine, transportation corridor and processing facility. Natural Resources minister Michael Gravelle announced that the smelter would be in Sudbury, Ontario .
June 2013: Cliffs announced it would put its $3.3-billion project on hold pending results of negotiations between First Nations and Queen's Park . "After numerous delays and difficult discussions with the province [of Ontario] and the First Nations communities,"Cliffs sold its assets to the smaller Canadian company, Noront Resources Ltd. for USD20 million (Younglai, 2015).
April 2014: The Regional Framework Agreement process was initiated by the provincial government. This was intended as a community-based process of negotiation with the Matawa First Nations tribal council on how mining and industrial development would unfold in the James Bay lowlands, how First Nation communities would participate and benefit, and how the environment would be safeguarded. It’s not publicly known what progress, if any, was made over four years, since the talks were kept confidential (Northern Ontario Business, 2018).
Ontario committed $1 billion to develop an all-season transportation corridor to access these remote deposits (Chetkiewicz, C., et al., 2018).
June 2014: A report, co-authored by Wildlife Conservation Society and Ecojustice,
recommends Ontario conduct a regional strategic environmental assessment (R-SEA) that would investigate the potential social and environmental impacts of mining and associated infrastructure developments on the entire region (Leahy, 2014).
But late in Premier Kathleen Wynne tenure, the whole process went into hibernation as the government shifted from trying to achieve consensus among the nine Matawa communities toward adopting a strategy of working only with the First Nations deemed “mining-ready”. Chief Elizabeth Altookan called this""A quick and dirty approach to opening the whole north" (Northern Ontario Business, 2018). A jurisdictional table was launched to discuss governance and land-use planning issues of the access roads. That panel excluded Neskantaga and Eabametoong (Northern Ontario Business, 2018).
"The previous Ontario government broke with the regional table and made separate deals with Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to plan and build multi-use roads to the Ring of Fire (Chetkiewicz, C., et al., 2018).
"Eabemetoong won a major victory in the Division Court of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice. A provincially-issued permit for Landore Resources to do exploration near Keezhik Lake in northwestern Ontario was revoked by the court based on inadequate consultation with local Indigenous people. The court said company will have to complete consultation with Eabametoong before a permit can be re-issued for Landore’s claim.
Summer 2018: Ford government fires the province’s main negotiator in the Ring of Fire consultation process, Justice Frank Iacobucci.
Nov 2018: The communities of Neskantaga and Eabametoong called out the Ford government for suspending
the Regional Framework Agreement process, and not replacing a fired negotiator. Ministry of Northern Development and Mines issued a response that area First Nations will have a say in how development proceeds (Northern Ontario Business, 2018).
Jan 2019: Provincial cabinet minister Greg Rickford
(minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs) reaffirmed the Ford government’s commitment to opening up the mineral deposits in the remote James Bay region (Ross, 2019).