Northern Ontario Ring of Fire
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The Ring of Fire is the name given to a massive planned chromite mining and smelting development project in the mineral-rich James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario.[notes 1] The Ring of Fire development would impact nine First Nations, and potential developers are required to negotiate an Impact Benefit Agreement with these communities prior to development. The region is centred on McFaulds Lake, near the Attawapiskat River in Kenora District, approximately 400 kilometres (250 mi) northeast of Thunder Bay, about 70 kilometres (43 mi) east of Webequie, and due north of Marten Falls and Ogoki Post, which is near/on the (Albany River) west of James Bay.
The Ring of Fire was named when the first significant mineral finds were made in the region, by Richard Nemis,[notes 2] after Johnny Cash's famous country and western ballad. Nemis, the founder and president of Noront Resources, was a lifelong fan of the singer. By the fall of 2011, the Ring of Fire was 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 approximately "1.5 million hectares." Although the Ring of Fire crescent covers 5,000 square kilometres (approximately 1,930 square miles), most discoveries made by 2012 were within a small, 20 kilometres (12 mi) long strip. Ontario's Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle called the region "home to one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in more than a century." Tony Clement, Canada's Treasury Board President and the FedNor minister responsible for the Ring of Fire, claimed it will be the economic equivalent of the Athabasca oil sands, with a potential of generating $120 billion. Clement says the Ring of Fire represents a "once-in-a-life opportunity to create jobs and generate growth and long-term prosperity for northern Ontario and the nation." Challenges facing the development of the Ring of Fire mineral include lack of access to the remote region, infrastructure deficits such as roads, railway, electricity and broadband, First Nations land rights, and environmental issues in the James Bay Lowlands, the "third largest wetland in the world"." Clement was looking to business, not the federal government, to invest "in power and transportation infrastructure to develop the deposit."
- 1 Ring of Fire as Ontario's Oil Sands
- 2 Access
- 3 Environmental assessments
- 4 Natural resources development
- 5 Government of Canada
- 6 Government of Ontario
- 7 Development proposals
- 8 Noront Resources's Eagle's Nest Project
- 9 Cliffs acquires Freewest Resources Canada Black Thor 2009
- 10 First Nations and the Ring of Fire
- 11 Notes
- 12 See also
- 13 References
Ring of Fire as Ontario's Oil Sands
In May 2012, Cliffs Natural Resources announced a "$3.3-billion investment to build a chromite mine, transportation corridor and processing facility in northern Ontario's Ring of Fire that would lead to a new generation of prosperity in the north, with thousands of jobs and new infrastructure." Natural Resources minister Michael Gravelle announced that the smelter would be in Sudbury, Ontario.
On 26 April 2013, Tony Clement called the Ring of Fire the Oil Sands of Ontario. On 13 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.
Tony Clement said that the Ring of Fire would bring "about a 100 years of mining activity that will spin-off jobs and economic activity for generations."
In February 2013, KWG Resources, a Toronto-based junior miner, released the report it commissioned by the international engineering firm Tetra Tech regarding the viability of building a railroad, instead of a road, to access chromite in the Ring of Fire. KWG's 100 percent owned subsidiary, Canada Chrome Corporation, "staked a 330-kilometre-long string of mining claims" creating a transportation corridor linking Cliffs/KWG's[notes 3] Big Daddy chromite deposit to CN Rail (CN) near Nakina, Ontario. According to KWG, their subsidiary, Canada Chrome Corporation "conducted a $15 million surveying and soil testing program for the engineering and construction of a railroad to the Ring of Fire from Exton, Ontario." Moe Lavigne, VP of KWG Resources, a former Ontario Geological Survey geologist, hopes the federal government will consider Tetra Tech's findings. Cliffs Natural Resources is seeking an easement through Ontario's Mining and Landings Commissioner on the KWG corridor to build their access road.
In 2011, environmental assessments by the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments began for Cliffs Natural Resources' proposed Black Thor Project and Noront Resources’s Eagles Nest Project, with both companies volunteering "to make their projects subject to an environmental assessment under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) and are completing environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
Natural resources development
On 25 October 2010, the Government of Ontario's Far North Act received assent and became law. The Far North Act is an "Act With Respect To Land Use Planning and Protection in the Far North", providing "a legislative foundation to support Far North land use planning as a joint process between First Nations and Ontario. Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources Ontario developed the Far North Land Use Planning Initiative recognising the Far North of Ontario represents "42% of provincial land area." The Hudson Bay Lowlands is the "third largest wetland in the world." Two-thirds of the Hudson Bay Lowlands is peatland, making it the "second largest area of contiguous peatland" in the world. There are 24,000 First Nation residents in 34 communities. The forests and peatlands in the Far North store 97 billion tonnes of carbon. The area filters Ontario's air, absorbing 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Government of Canada
On 12 November 2012, Tony Clement was appointed as the lead federal minister on the Ring of Fire and co-chair, with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt, of the Federal Steering Committee (FCS), which represents 15 federal departments. Clement invited Ontario Natural Resources minister Michael Gravelle "to collaborate on projects, community visits, information-sharing, and to hold joint meetings." Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) led other federal departments and FedNor in the development of Action Plan for Supporting Community Participation in the Ring of Fire to help "position First Nations to benefit from proposed mining projects."
The Federal Action Plan's whole-of-government approach includes the creation of a one-stop shop, where working group leads, from existing federal working groups in the labour market, infrastructure, community health and well-being, business development and environment form the single point of contact with local First Nations, industry and the province of Ontario. A multi-ministry meeting of federal senior officials had already been organized in April 2012.
Greg Rickford is the MP for the riding of Kenora, where the Ring of Fire is located, and the Minister of State for FedNor.
Action plan for supporting community participation in the Ring of Fire
February 2013 briefing notes for Clement warned that the Matawa First Nation communities were among the "most socio-economically challenged in Ontario, impacting their ability to meaningfully participate in large complex projects." Most of the "working age population in the Matawa First Nation communities have not completed high school."[notes 4] Three of the nine local Matawa First Nations were "under financial intervention (co-management)." Matawa First Nations lack "exposure to a development of this magnitude combined with low educational attainment and other factors suggests that the communities do not currently have the capacity to address the various issues related to the Ring of Fire."
The Action Plan noted that First Nations were interested in potential legacy impacts of Ring of Fire infrastructure, such as all-weather roads, links to the power grid and high-speed broadband Internet. Industry Canada's Broadband Canada was already laying 2,300 kilometers of fibre optic cable to 26 First Nations across the Far North, including the Ring of Fire.
Government of Ontario
In April 2010 the government of Ontario announced that it would open a large chromite deposit in the area to development.
Ring of Fire Secretariat: Resource revenue sharing with First Nations
In 2011, Ontario's Ministry of Northern Development and Mines created the Ring of Fire Secretariat, with Christine Kaszyckias as its coordinator, to develop "the chromite and other deposits in the Ring of Fire as quickly as possible and with due regard to environmental impacts and the needs of the Aboriginal communities within the region." It outlined strategies regarding First Nations partnerships, including resource revenue sharing,[notes 5] regional infrastructure planning, long-term environmental monitoring, community-based capacity funding, relationship agreements, land use planning, employment and income assistance, skills development, training and job creation, transportation and community infrastructure, and socio-economic and community development in response to concerns by industry and First Nations communities.
On May 8, 2012, Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the eve of Cliffs Natural Resources' announcement of the location of its ferrochrome processing facility, asking for federal government assistance "to engage First Nations in the region to help those communities benefit from this historic opportunity." Along with federal funds to improve First Nations education on reserves and for drug treatment programs, McGuinty asked for "a tripartite process."
By 2012, 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. KWG Resources entered into a joint venture agreement with Bold Ventures (TSX:BOL) on its $5 million Koper Lake Project. In February 2013, Richard Nemis, CEO of Bold Ventures, obtained a Marten Falls First Nation Land Use Permit to operate the camp using "three diamond drills provided by Cyr International Drilling and Orbit Garant Drilling" to carry out approximately 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) of diamond drilling on nickel‐copper and chromite targets. Operator Bold Ventures was required to cease drilling activities from March 31, 2012, until April 13, 2013, to ensure the First Nations' permit was granted under the Mining Act, and a permit issued by a Director of Exploration from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines was obtained. Probe Mines owned the entire Victory Project, which consists of "452 claims totaling 7,232 hectares and covers the interpreted southeast extension of the McFauld's Lake" and the Tamarack Project which "comprises 360 claims covering over 5,700 hectares of the McFauld's Lake in the Ring of Fire.
Noront Resources's Eagle's Nest Project
On 28 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.[notes 6] To reduce heavy truck traffic, Noront is planning to build a buried 90 kilometres (56 mi)-long slurry pipeline, using new technology safety features, from the site to Webequie Junction.
Environmental concerns listed in a Lakehead University 2012 report regarding Noront Resources's Eagle's Nest Project include pipeline leaks, a "a large edge effect", a "significant loss of biodiversity at local & regional level" from "linear constructions" such as roads. Despite state-of-the-art technology, environmental risks of underground pipelines in the wetlands, excluding the risk of leaks, include alterations of "hydrology, thermal regime, soil structure and vegetation of ecosystem."
Noront Resources and Martens Falls First Nations, 2003–2010
In 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. The Mining Act[notes 7] only allows exploration activities, not the construction of permanent structures. Marten Falls First Nations Chief Eli Moonias explained in 2010 that Noront Resources did not have "permits to construct landing strips on the string bog or roads to the nearby airstrip." "The two First Nations proposed that they should build and maintain the infrastructure to prevent further damage to the wetlands environment." Marten Falls First Nations Chief Eli Moonias described how over a seven-year period, Noront Resources "sunk machines here and they have done outrageous acts here." In the fall of 2009, the companies "used a helicopter to break ice here with a log." On February 3, 2010, Noront Resources Ltd. was trying to build a (landing) strip here on the string bog." In January 2010, Chief Eli Moonias,[notes 8] Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasseand, and community members set up a blockade on the landing strips at Koper and McFaulds Lakes. Martens Falls and Webequie First Nations ended their blockade on March 19, 2010, with the admonition that they would resume the action if their concerns were not addressed by Noront within six months. Although the protest ended, Noront continued to use the frozen lakes as landing strips until break-up in 2010. Chief Eli Moonias expressed environmental concerns over "sewage, grey-water, oil spills and road clearing" over the seven-year period.
Cliffs acquires Freewest Resources Canada Black Thor 2009
Cliffs Natural Resources, of Cleveland, Ohio, originally had an "ambitious timetable for developing the Black Thor chromite deposit", hoping to complete permits and environmental assessment approvals by the end of 2013 (MRI). In September 2003, a junior company, Freewest Resources Canada, began exploring Black Thor using airborne geophysics and ground geophysics. In February 2008 findings of a chromite prospect with an estimated 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) strike length, a depth of 200 metres (660 ft), and a 40 metres (130 ft) width containing an estimated 72 megatonnes of chromite ore (42% Cr2O3). in September 2009. In October 2009, Noront Resources (NOT-V) made a hostile takeover bid for Freewest Resources (FWR-V). In November 2009, Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF-N), the world's largest iron ore pellet supplier, purchased Freewest Resources' share of the chromite-rich "high-grade Black Thor, Black Label and Big Daddy deposits in the remote "Ring of Fire" metals" for $240 million. In November 2009, Joseph Carrabba, Cliffs' president and CEO, claimed the "world-class deposits" had the "potential to support an open pit mine producing 1 to 2 million tonnes per year for more than thirty years." Carrabba announced that the ore would be "further processed into 400,000-800,000 tonnes of ferrochrome." The purchase was finalized in 2010.[notes 9]
According to Carrabba the area of the Ring of Fire that Cliffs acquired in 2009 represents one of the "premier chromite deposits in the world. Chromite is smelted to produce ferrochrome which is used globally in the production of stainless steel and is categorized as a strategic metal resource by many countries.
In May 2012, Cliffs announced a "$3.3-billion investment to build a chromite mine, transportation corridor and processing facility in northern Ontario's Ring of Fire that would lead to a new generation of prosperity in the north, with thousands of jobs and new infrastructure." Cliffs announced that its ferrochrome smelter would be in the Sudbury area in Ontario.
However, by 13 June, the Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., one of the world’s leading mining companies, announced through Bill Boor, senior vice-president for Global Ferroalloys, a division of Cliffs, that it would put its $3.3-billion project, including the Comprehensive Assessment, on hold for one year pending results of negotiations between First Nations and Queen's Park.
First Nations and the Ring of Fire
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 forces the two companies to negotiate an impact benefit agreement with the nine First Nations that would "include certain assurances, including guarantees that a certain number of jobs will go to First Nations workers." The three First Nations most profoundly impacted by the two projects are Marten Falls First Nation, Webequie First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation.[notes 10] Others on the edge of the Ring of Fire include Constance Lake First Nation (Chief Roger Wesley), Nibinamik First Nation, Aroland First Nation, Long Lake 58 First Nation, Ginoogaming First Nation, Eabametoong First Nation, Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and Constance Lake First Nation.[notes 11]
On October 13, 2011, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) proceeded with a Comprehensive Study Environmental Assessment that favours the mining industry without First Nations participation.
On October 20, 2011, Matawa First Nations removed its support for the Ring of Fire development unless the federal government agreed to a joint review panel Environmental Assessment process that would allow First Nations communities in the area to have a voice in the assessment."
On June 12, 2012, Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci signed an agreement that "commits Ontario to providing social, community and economic development supports for Webequie to help facilitate the community’s involvement in the Ring of Fire." They "will work together on regional environmental monitoring and regional infrastructure planning."
On February 4, 2013, Tony Clement acknowledged that the nine first First Nations on and off-reserve in the Ring of Fire area are some of the "most socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in all of Canada."
In an interview with CBC on 27 June 2013, Les Louttit, the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the group that represents the nine First Nations, argued that serious problems have been neglected for decades. Two to three years is not enough time for skills training to train locals for construction jobs, for example. Louttit noted the gap in First Nations high school and post-secondary education that has existed for many years. Anja Jeffrey, director of the Centre for the North at the Conference Board of Canada, stressed traditional hunting as one of the key issues.
Bob Rae was appointed as chief negotiator to represent the nine different native governments—Marten Falls First Nation, Webequie First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation, Nibinamik First Nation, Aroland First Nation, Long Lake 58 First Nation, Ginoogaming First Nation, Eabametoong First Nation, Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and Constance Lake First Nation for the Matawa First Nations—in talks with the Ontario government about the opening of First Nations lands to the Ring of Fire development. Noront’s Eagle's Nest copper and nickel mine and the Black Thor chromite mine of Cliffs Natural Resources would generate wealth and royalties for Ontario, but the mines are in a remote region. They will "require significant development to make them viable." "[D]evelopment that will have a profound effect on the local native communities, five of which are not yet accessible by road."
- Ontario's Far North is designated under the Far North Act 2010.
- The team credited with the 2007 discovery of Noront’s Eagle’s Nest nickel-PGE deposit in the Ring of Fire include Richard Nemis, a Sudbury-born lawyer became a mining promoter, founder and past-President of Noront Resources Ltd. with John Harvey, Don Hoy, Neil Novak and Mac Watson. Nemis stepped down as President from Noront in 2008. He started to new companies, Rencore Resources Ltd. and Bold Ventures Inc Sudbury Mining Solutions
- Cliffs Natural Resources holds the majority share of Big Daddy with KWG holding 30 percent.
- "According to the Assembly of First Nations, data shows the First Nations high school graduation rate is 36 per cent, compared to 72 per cent in Canada overall. A First Nations youth is more likely to end up in jail than graduate high school."Postmedia 1 April 2013
- Mining royalties flow to the Province of Ontario not to the First Nations on whose land the mines are located. Victor Mine/Attawapiskat
- According to Gregory Reynolds' 28 July 2008 post on the Republic of Mining, Noront Resources Ltd had drilled two holes in the ground, with one having copper sulfide mineralization and the other hole with similar results. A few months later, Noront announced that it had found nickel, copper, platinum, and palladium a few meters below the surface.
- In 2009 the Government of Ontario introduced an Act to Amend the Mining Act to update the 1873 Ontario Mining Act, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDM&F). Mining interests are allowed access to most of the land in Ontario, including private property and "mining projects are exempt from full environmental assessments and are under no obligation to clean up a mining site after the mine has closed." The 2009 amendments "failed to address the exemption permitted for mining from the environmental assessment process or protect Ontarians from being on the hook to pay for cleanup costs."Ontario Nature
- The Marten Falls First Nations community consists of about 280 on-reserve band members Wataway.
- According to the Northern Miner article Cliff's 2009 acquisition included "Freewest's 100%-owned Black Thor and Black Label deposits, and 50% of its Big Daddy deposit, which Freewest has joint-ventured with Spider Resources (SPQ-V) and KWG Resources (KWG-V). Cliffs already owns 19.9% of KWG Resources, which holds a 25% stake in the Big Daddy deposit."
- The Neskantaga First Nation is located at the headwaters of the Attawapiskat River, where Cliff's proposed open pit mine would be located.CBC 14 May 2012
- They are represented by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). NAN is a political territorial organization that represents the 50 First Nations that are part of the Treaty No. 9 area in Northern Ontario. At the provincial level, the community, tribal council and political territorial organization participate in a province wide coordinating body, the Chiefs of Ontario. The Assembly of First Nations represents the community along with other First Nations organizations and councils as well as over 600 First Nations across Canada. Attawapiskat First Nation, Kashechewan First Nation and Fort Albany First Nation are on the outer ring. Discovery of diamonds by Victor Mine on Attawapiskat First Nation traditional land, was one of the catalysts to further exploration resulting in the discovery of chromite.
- First Nations have a constitutional right to be consulted and accommodated by provincial and the federal governments. The federal government has a focus on streamlining review processes through 2012 changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to avoid a repeat of the lengthy Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel which had a broad mandate under both the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to "consider whether the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects and if it is in the public interest." The review process included multiple opportunities for the public and Aboriginal groups to provide input NEB.
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- Mike Hosszu; Gavin Sobil; Rosemarie Needham (5 April 2012) (PDF). (Report). Lakehead University. http://faculty.lakeheadu.ca/pasmith/files/2012/05/NorontEaglesNest_-HosszuNeedhamSobil.pdf. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
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- "Matawa Chiefs fear the consequences of Canada’s choice to use a Comprehensive Study Environmental Assessment process in the Ring of Fire" (PDF). Thunder Bay, Ontario. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- "Matawa Chiefs are in a state of disbelief about the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s (CEAA) decision to side with industry by choosing a Comprehensive Study Environmental Assessment (EA) process for the Cliff’s Chromite Project near Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations". Thunder Bay, Ontario: Matawa First Nations. 13 October 2011.
- "Webequie signs provincial Ring of Fire agreement". Wawatay News. 21 June 2012.
- "First Nation wants to slow the pace of mining activities: Webequie residents say process needs to slow down so they can participate in Ring of Fire". Thunder Bay, Ontario: CBC News. 11 June 2012.
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