The Ring of FireApril 6th, 2023
Located approximately 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Ring of Fire is one of the most promising mineral development opportunities for critical minerals in the world. The region has the long-term potential to produce: (1) chromite, (2) cobalt, (3) nickel, (4) copper, and (5) platinum. These critical minerals are essential for the production of certain green technologies, especially electric vehicles and clean steel. Seeing the economic potential the Ring of Fire has, the Government of Ontario has made its development a key priority. The provincial government hopes the Ring of Fire will contribute to the province’s economy by creating jobs, generating additional government revenue, initiating new infrastructure development, and bringing prosperity to remote First Nation communities in Ontario’s far north.
Multiple, successive governments have promised to deliver on the Ring of Fire. The extraction of the critical minerals in the Ring of Fire is politically popular in many Northern Ontario communities set to benefit economically. However, progress to date has been slow.
Immediately, upon being elected Leader of the Ontario PC Party, Premier Doug Ford promised action on the file, and made it a core component of his most recent election campaign. In order to fit into his “get it done” mantra, the Ontario Government will be anxious to show that progress is being made on this file.
The three First Nations communities most directly linked to the Ring of Fire region are Webequie First Nation, Marten Falls First Nation, and Neskantaga First Nation. There are also eight other first nations communities within close proximity, and many have been vocal in expressing their interest in having a say in the development of the region.
Finding partnerships with First Nations communities, especially those within the region, has been paramount to moving this project forward. For many years, this seemed a tall order. In fact, in January 2022, the Neskantaga, Attawapiskat, Fort Albany, Eabametoong, and Kashechewan First Nations chiefs sent a joint letter to Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, expressing concerns about the terms of reference for the project’s Regional Impact Assessment. In 2021, these same chiefs had called for a moratorium on the Ring of Fire project, citing similar concerns.
More recently, however, progress was made in getting the other closely linked First Nations communities on board. In 2022, the Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations announced that they are co-leading the planning of the “Northern Road Link” as part of a historic partnership with the province. This initiative will be a significant step in moving the Ring of Fire’s development forward by ensuring the construction of reliable, all-season roads to the remote First Nations communities in that region.
WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT SAYING?
Ontario’s Premier and Ministers have stressed the social benefits that the Ring of Fire has the potential to provide to Ontarians through driving new economic growth.
“For too long, our northern and Indigenous communities have been cut off from the rest of Ontario because previous governments never made them a priority.” – Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford
“Working with Indigenous partners, we have a tremendous opportunity for a corridor that can supply energy and leverage health, economic and social benefits, while unlocking significant economic growth.” – Greg Rickford, Minister of Northern Development and Minister of Indigenous Affairs
“The Ring of Fire has the critical minerals we need to build our manufacturing supply chain, including nickel for electric vehicles and chromite for clean steel. Our government’s investments in innovation and infrastructure are creating jobs across the entire province, including northern and Indigenous communities.” – George Pirie, Minister of Mines
WHAT ARE EXPERTS SAYING?
Experts have expressed the need for meaningful partnerships with First Nations while highlighting the transformative impact this project will have on communities across northern Ontario.
“The Ring of Fire is home to some of the most significant mineral deposits in the world and provides Ontario with a natural advantage when it comes to producing the materials required to build the electric vehicles and economy of the future. We are now seeing significant progress being made to ensure that these resources are safely extracted and connected to the world markets. The benefits of these investments to this region are hard to overstate and will bring good jobs and economic opportunities to the communities of Northern Ontario.” – Chris Hodgson, President of the Ontario Mining Association
“Any attempt by the Crown to come back with less than the equality we have asked for and deserve, and which the fight against climate disaster needs, will be seen as nothing but an attempt to dress up a broken window with pretty drapes.” – Chiefs of Mushkegowuk Attawapiskat
“Our Indigenous-led approach has been designed to study the project’s potential impacts and effects, as well as alternatives and possible mitigations, and most importantly, to allow First Nations people to make informed decisions about the future development of their traditional lands. This project has the potential to finally bring economic reconciliation for remote First Nations.” – Webequie Chief, Cornelius Wabasse.
“I look forward to a brighter future, not only for my own community, but also for our neighbours in the region.” – Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, Marten Falls First Nation
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING?
In recent parliamentary debates, members of Ontario’s NDP opposition, such as John Vanthof, the MPP for Timiskaming–Cochrane, have been hesitant to support the government’s progress on this file: “There has to be a true partnership with the people who are there now. That has not happened in the past. Indigenous people are still paying the price for that. We have to be cognizant that the people who live there now have to be partners. Unless we realize that, the Ring of Fire may never happen, and that is a very serious issue.”
Ontario’s first Indigenous MPP, Sol Mamakwa, the NDP representative for the riding of Kiiwetinoong, was even more critical of where things stand, calling into question the level of partnership that exists between the government and the impacted First Nations communities: “I know, when you talk about the Ring of Fire, you’re talking about working with two First Nations, and there are so many First Nations in the surrounding area of the Ring of Fire. That’s exactly what colonizers do; that’s a very colonial approach. When are you going to start talking to other First Nations? When are you going to stop being very colonial?”
On the other hand, Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, remains optimistic about the economic opportunities that will accompany the Ring of Fire’s development: “We know that the Ring of Fire means good jobs, means continuing development of the North in ways that hopefully will build the kind of sustained partnerships with Indigenous communities that have been too long absent from the economic growth landscape.”
Ontario’s recent approval of the Terms of Reference for the Northern Road Link Environmental Assessment is a significant step towards making commercial access to the Ring of Fire a reality. Ontario has dedicated close to $1 billion to support critical legacy infrastructure in the region – for constructing all‑season roads, investing in high-speed internet, road upgrades, and community support initiatives. Ontario is working directly with First Nations communities through bilateral agreements that support each community’s unique needs and priorities and will continue to do so as discussions surrounding the next steps in the planning of this project unfold. The Environmental Assessments for all roads related to the project are expected to take several years before being submitted for provincial approval.
JB+A Senior Management Team: