Mining companies are hungry to extract resources from Ontario's "Ring of Fire", a mineral rich area of Northern Ontario. The provinces premier Dalton McGuinty describes the area as Ontario's oil sands.
However last month five First Nations in the area issued a moratorium on mining development, and on July 5th one of those nations, the Neskantaga First Nation brought a legal challenge against Cliffs Natural Resources and the Province.
Cliffs Natural Resources are proposing to create Ontario's first chromium mine, and 360 km road to access the mine. Neskantaga First Nation say that the company has an "aggressive timetable" to build the road, and they have not fulfilled their duty to consult on the $3.2 billion project.
“This is about a small First Nation in Northern Ontario standing up against an American mining bully, hell bent on making a road and a mine no matter what First Nations say,” said Chief Peter Moonias of Neskantaga, “The McGuinty government continues to ignore First Nations and is desperate to see this Northern Ontario mega project go ahead."
"The courts have said that the Crown's duty of consultation arises early in the process. To be meaningful, consultation must take place before key decisions are made that advance a project,” explained Matthew Kirchner, the lawyer who represented Neskantaga at the Ontario Mines and Lands Commission, a Toronto court that deals exclusively with issues related to mining.
The courtroom was packed with nine people who travelled from Neskantaga and their many supporters from both nearby First Nations and Toronto.
"As this is a legal matter, we are not at liberty to comment at this time." Cliffs told the Toronto Media Co-op in an email, adding "Consultation is the duty of the Crown.
First Nations treaties were negotiated with the British crown. In this case the province of Ontario acts as the Crown, as it is in charge of regulating mining.
"Ontario and Cliffs have gone a long way down the path towards building this project without Neskantaga input and that is a problem that must be addressed,” said Kirchner. "This is a massive project that will open up the Neskantaga homeland for the first time, threatening the Neskantaga's rivers, fish, wildlife and their very way of life."
"We have constitutional and aboriginal and treaty rights on our side and we hope the Mining Court can help us put this project on hold so a proper consultation process can begin.” said Moonias.
Neskantaga and five other First Nations who issues the moratorium on mining in their terrirtory put 22 companies on notice that they would be evicted unless a government to government process is established to deal with issues of importance to First Nations, including social and environmental needs.
Moonais acknowledged that their legal fight is "an uphill battle," and emphasized the difference between the amount the of money that big corporations are able to spend on court cases compared to the amount of money that first nations are able to spend.
"We will exhaust all the options of the justice system before we consider other resorts such as peaceful occupation of the land."