During the question period at Queen’s Park, a heated discussion between the Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa and Northern Development Minister Greg Rickford over Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias’s comments on the Northern Links road project.
The province had announced earlier this week that the terms of reference for the evironmental assessment of the road project had been approved.
Shortly after that announcement on Tuesday, Moonias took to his YouTube channel to announce that the provincial government had not consulted with the First Nation when developing the term of reference for the environmental assessment for the Northern Links project that would facilitate mining in the Ring of Fire.
In the video, Moonias said anyone planning to build a road through the First Nation's traditional territory "will have to kill us first."
In the legislature on Thursday, Mamakwa prefaced his question by telling the Ford government that Neskantaga had “not given Ontario consent to build on a mining road on its traditional and treaty land.”
“What is the government doing to uphold the law of its Treaty 9 obligation and obtain the consent of all First Nations impacted by the Northern Road Link,” asked Mamakwa.
Rickford stood up to answer Mamakwa’s question. His response did not reference Neskantaga First Nation, the chief's comments, or the Northern Links Project. Instead, Rickford responded with references to other northern Ontario mining projects, where First Nations communities have consented to build on their traditional lands.
“The corridor to prosperity is an opportunity for all Indigenous communities in that area to unleash new health, social, and economic benefits by bringing in better forms of energy, strong broadband, and better critical infrastructure. This is a massive northern development opportunity. We’ll build consensus with those communities and we’ll forward to an opportunity to build a critical mineral of a world-class scale,” answered Rickford.
Mamakwa’s rebuttal to Rickford references the Neskantaga First Nation water crisis in 2020, which led to the First Nation being evacuated for 60 days. Mamakwa said Rickford, the provincial minister of Indigenous affairs, “never made a call to the leadership.”
Mamkwa also pointed to recent provincial legislation introduced by the government — Bill 71 — to fast-track the approval process for mining developments.
“How will taking away the requirements to approve mining protect Indigenous and treaty rights in the Ring of Fire?” Mamakwa asked.
Rickford said that dialogue between the Ford government and First Nations is being conducted in the best interest of both parties.
“As someone who has lived in those communities and worked closely with the leadership of some of those communities over the years, there is growing consensus that we can do these projects. That we can strike a fair balance, we can build a consensus and meet the demands of the single most environmental policy ever advanced by a sub-sovereign government and that is to bring critical minerals from that region and other parts of Northern Ontario into a fully integrated supply chain for electric vehicle and battery capacitors,” answered Rickford.
Mamakwa also questioned Mines Minister George Pirie.
Pirie responded by saying that Canada’s international competition for minerals makes these developments of the utmost importance.
“These minerals right now are being secured in Russia and China and Congo, and we need those minerals secured in Ontario and out of Ontario. There is no compromise with Indigenous duty to consult. There is no compromise with Ontario’s environmental standards. This is a world-class bill that will benefit every single citizen in Ontario,” Pirie said.