First Nations leaders walk out of Ontario Legislature after heated exchange over Ring of Fire proposals | CBC News

Leaders from five First Nations pushing for their voices to be heard when it comes to proposed mining projects and a meeting with Premier Doug Ford walked out of the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday after a heated exchange.

Ahead of question period in the Legislature, the five were at a news conference arranged for them by Sol Mamakwa, the NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong and deputy opposition leader. No officials from the Ford government were in attendance.

The leaders travelled thousands of kilometres to Toronto from their First Nations, which earlier this year formed the First Nations Land Defence Alliance to advocate for the right to free, prior and informed consent when it comes to proposed mining projects on First Nations land. They include:

  • Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation.
  • Wapekeka First Nation.
  • Neskantaga First Nation.
  • Grassy Narrows First Nation.
  • Muskrat Dam First Nation. 

Things got tense in the house when Mamakwa asked in question period: “Will this government commit today to obtain the consent of First Nations before making any plans for their homelands?” 

Greg Rickford, the minister of Indigenous affairs, responded: “From the outset, our government has been focused on consensus and relationship building, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to resource projects and legacy infrastructure, and in fact, it started a couple of years ago,” he said.

After some back and forth between the politicians, followed by what the Speaker called an outburst in the gallery — Neskantaga’s chief-elect, Christopher Moonias, shouted from the gallery that there should be no development without First Nations’ free, prior and informed consent — the five alliance members got up and left the Legislature.

Mamakwa said Rickford’s response means the government “[does] not care about First Nation rights.”

The First Nations leaders spoke about three key items:

  • The Building More Mines Act (Bill 71), intended to alter Ontario’s Mining Act to speed up permits for new mines to begin operations. 
  • The Ring of Fire Access Road, intended to connect Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation to the proposed Ring of Fire mining development area
  • The free entry system, which allows licensed prospectors to stake mining claims online for a fee
WATCH I First Nations leaders speak with reporters after demonstration in question period:

First Nations take their message directly to Ontario government — no resource extraction without consent

Watch this uncut exchange as leaders from five First Nations in northwestern Ontario and NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa speak to reporters after demonstrating their continued opposition to mining in the Ring of Fire without their prior consent at Question Period.

Ontario has called the Ring of Fire, which was discovered in 2007, “one of the most promising mineral development opportunities for critical minerals in the province.”

The five First Nations leaders said their lands’ value isn’t encapsulated by a dollar figure.

In recent weeks, there’s been controversy over what’s being expressed by various interests as the potential economic value the Ring of Fire, a remote, mineral-rich area in northern Ontario. Mines Minister George Pirie has said, “Anecdotally, mining people are saying this is a trillion-dollar project,” a target that professionals and researchers in mining and resource governance say are exaggerated.

Pirie’s office did not respond to CBC News’s request for an interview in time for publication.

Leaders pledge further action

“It seems like they just ignore our voice. They’re not listening to us,” said Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation during the press conference.

He spoke of the 20-year legacy of blockades in Grassy Narrows that have successfully prevented logging operations on the land – the longest running Indigenous blockade in Canadian history.

Now, their focus has shifted to the rising number of staked mining claims – which he says has “skyrocketed” over the years, especially between 2022 and 2023.

“It’s because they’re giving these free claims to people and they’re just handing them out to whoever wants them,” he said. “Our position is very clear: we don’t want mining and development in our land and we want to be consulted.”

A group of people stand together, most of them staring ahead, not smiling.
Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation speaks alongside members of the First Nations Land Defence Alliance in calling out the Ford government’s Ring of Fire mining agenda, at Queen’s Park in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Outgoing Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation said his people are willing to risk their lives to protect their river system. But when pushed further about what this resistance may actually look like – be it lawsuits, blockades or even violence, he didn’t specify what their future action might entail.

“We want to make sure that we have a big say in what happens. It’s simple as that,” Moonias said. “Our people need to be involved because our way of life is going to be impacted.”

Christopher Moonias, who begins his term as Chief on Saturday, described how consultation with First Nations means government officials must come to their land and speak in the Nation’s language. 

“I can tell you for a fact that we haven’t been consulted because of the fact that … there hasn’t been any government official, Ontario official, that has stepped in Neskantaga for the past several years. Consultation happens in the community,” he said.

Alvin Fiddler, representing Muskrat Dam First Nation, also added: “we shouldn’t have to beg for meetings with officials.”

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