James Bay chiefs demand an Indigenous-led environmental review process for Far North industrial development
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault is considering “next steps” in response to the joint letter sent by First Nations chiefs last week, according to a federal government spokesperson.
Last week, Attawapiskat and Fort Albany, Neskantaga and Kashechewan First Nations chiefs sent a joint letter to Guilbeault after a virtual meeting to talk about the Ring of Fire.
They expressed concerns about the Ring of Fire terms of reference for the Regional Impact Assessment in the carbon-rich peatlands known as the Breathing Lands.
“The Government of Canada recognizes the need for meaningful consultation and engagement with Indigenous peoples throughout the implementation of the Impact Assessment Act,” Karen Fish, Impact Assessment Agency of Canada spokesperson, said in an email.
“The Minister would like to thank the Indigenous Chiefs for their letter and is considering next steps.”
Fish said the Jan. 17 meeting was productive and “provided the minister with the opportunity to interact directly with communities and hear their important perspectives regarding the regional assessment in the Ring of Fire Area.”
The Ring of Fire is a rich and remote mineral belt of nickel, copper, chromite and other metals located in Ontario’s Far North region. First Nation communities along the James Bay coast have been voicing concerns about potentially negative downstream impacts from proposed mining operations.
In the letter, the chiefs said there needs to be an Indigenous-led investigation and decision-making process regarding the Breathing Lands and called Canada to restart “afresh” with Indigenous nations mutually and equally participating in developing, enforcing and leading the Regional Impact Assessment.
They asked for a clear yes or no answer from ministers by Jan. 28.
The agency is currently soliciting public feedback about the draft agreement that will conduct a regional assessment of Ring of Fire.
The original deadline for feedback submission was February 1.
Fish now asks for comments from Indigenous groups by March 2nd.
“The agency is remaining flexible and will respond to requests for extensions from public organizations on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
The Friends of the Attawapiskat River group has also launched Petition Forcing an Indigenous-led process. Also, opposing the proposed Ring of Fire development in the region and the assessment. The group also requested that the Feb. 1 deadline be extended.