Background: the issue
Development in Ontario’s “Ring of Fire”, a significant deposit of minerals, including chromite, located in the boreal region of the far north of the province, has been on the table for many years. Despite the fact that successive governments have hyped the value of the resources, the remoteness and lack of infrastructure, as well as the inability of governments to obtain the buy-in of all of the First Nations communities in the region, has left the Ring of Fire undeveloped.
Thus, Ontario’s far north remains one of the world’s largest, most intact ecological systems. The boreal forest and peatlands play key roles in regulating the climate. Proposed mining in this region has generated significant controversy and conflict because the potential for wealth generation is accompanied by the potential for significant and possibly serious negative impacts and cumulative effects, as recently-proposed infrastructure developments quite literally ‘pave the way’ for multiple mines and generations of extraction. The proposals also present a likelihood of inequitably distributed benefits and risks at a variety of physical and temporal scales, with remote Anishinaabe and Anishini communities and their ways of life particularly vulnerable in this regard. These communities are already experiencing an ongoing state of social emergency with youth suicide, addiction and housing crises, as well as a persistent lack of essential community infrastructure, including safe drinking water.
For many years, analysts and First Nations leaders have been calling for a regional process in order to broadly assess the expected impacts of the proposed developments in the Ring of Fire. They have noted the complexity of the contemplated infrastructure decisions, the potential for lasting negative impacts, and vast cumulative effects. And yet, without this framework in place, provincial and federal impact assessment (IA) regimes are currently proceeding to assess two individual road proposals that threaten to open the region up to mining.
With this research, our team has synthesized knowledge across a range of areas, including Indigenous-led IA, regional and strategic approaches to IA, and the use of gender-based analysis plus in IA, and applied it to the example of Ontario’s Ring of Fire. In doing so, our primary aim has been to develop, test, and propose a workable plan for how such an approach could be adopted in the specific context of Ontario’s Far North.
Our team began with a period of background preparation and literature review, including following the developments in the region over the fall months, including the progression of the project-level assessments that were being conducted at the federal and provincial levels for the Marten Falls Community Access Road and the Webequie Supply Road. The PI conducted a community visit, workshop and some interviews in collaboration with Neskantaga First Nation in November 2019. Subsequent to that visit, the team collaboratively prepared three draft models for how a regional IA could be implemented in partnership with an Indigenous
Governing Authority (IGA) in the region.
The team convened a day-long meeting with 14 community representatives, elders and leaders from Neskantaga First Nation in Thunder Bay on January 23, 2020 to discuss, debate and refine the models. The discussion was audio-recorded with permission, transcribed and coded. From there, the team finalized our recommendations and began drafting this report.
The key messages communicated to us by knowledge holders, elders, and leadership in the community engagement sessions included:
• The people in the communities are the real authority; the grassroots and the elders must be heard for any process to be legitimate;
• The appropriate Indigenous Governing Authority (IGA) must be a collective of affected First Nations, rather than one of the existing tribal councils or regional organizations, such as NAN or Matawa (on the basis of ecological connectivity and socio-cultural impacts related to probable infrastructure locations);
• An Elders Advisory Council should be an integral element at all stages of decision-making;
• The ongoing state of social emergency must be addressed first, before new projects can be adequately considered. Communities must be satisfied that any potential new projects or infrastructure will mitigate the crises, and enhance long-term social, cultural and ecological sustainability; and,
• Any regional approaches need to provide a framework that can effectively guide project-level assessments and approvals, which in turn lead into community-level consent processes, in line with local protocols.
The recommended model includes a semi-permanent Ring of Fire Commission to be established by agreement between the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change and an Indigenous Governing Authority made up of impacted and interested First Nations. The Commission, in conjunction with an Elder Advisory Council, should develop a framework for cumulative effects; baseline data (including on the ongoing social emergency); criteria for a modified ‘positive contribution to sustainability’ test; and a regional plan. Under the umbrella of the Commission, we recommend a joint panel review process for making subsequent decisions about individual projects proposed for the region, within the parameters established by the Commission. Decisions on individual projects will subsequently be made independently by each relevant governing authority.
For more information, contact Professor Dayna Nadine Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott, Dayna N.; Atlin, Cole; Van Wagner, Estair; Siebenmorgan, Peter; and Gibson, Robert B., "Synthesis Report: Implementing a Regional, Indigenous-Led and Sustainability-Informed Impact Assessment in Ontario’s Ring of Fire" (2020). Articles & Book Chapters. 2807.