‘Get off the bulldozer’ and come to the table, Matawa chief tells Premier Ford

Tuesday, May 30th, 2023 12:36pm


Image Caption

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland.


“Any activity in our territory without our consent is cultural genocide. Because, you know what? We are Cree. We're not separate and apart from the land.” — Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s ready to jump on the bulldozer and build the access road to the Ring of Fire, an area rich with critical mineral deposits in the province’s far north.

In the next breath though, he says, “Well, we don't like conflict. We want to work with (the Matawa Nations), hand-in-hand, and be collaborative.”

Ford’s words came during a visit to Brampton, which will be home to a new electric vehicle battery facility. The metals for the EV factory are found in the Ring of Fire, which is within Treaty 9 territory.

“So he'll sit with us at the table then? That's absolutely wonderful news,” said Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland when Windspeaker.com asked about the two contradictory sentiments expressed by Ford at the same news conference May 11.

“I would love to see that happening… It has to happen. It has to happen because he has to understand, and Canada has to understand… This is our traditional territory,” said Sutherland.

“Any activity in our territory without our consent is cultural genocide. Because, you know what? We are Cree. We're not separate and apart from the land.”

She said Doug Ford and all governments need to understand that the “ecosystem is saving and protecting us as human beings.”

The area is rich with peatlands, which is estimated to sequester 35 billion tonnes of carbon. The peatlands are also critical habitat for wildlife.

Constance Lake is one of seven Matawa Nations pushing the Ford Conservative government to consult with them instead of doling out mining claims “like candy” and expecting the mining companies to do the consultations.

The Matawa Nations territories are closest to the Ring of Fire and have treaty rights in the area.

“The (mining companies as) proponents don't have any legal fiduciary (duty) to Native First Nations. It's the federal government and that division of power,” said Sutherland.

She’s tired of Ottawa throwing up its hands at Ford’s decisions and declaring, “‘Ontario. Oh my God. They’re running amok’” and then doing nothing about it.

Weighing in most recently on the subject has been federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. In a tweet May 25, Poilievre accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “delays & red tape.”

“Trudeau’s gatekeeping is on the verge of killing yet another gargantuan resource opportunity—The Ring of Fire,” tweeted Poilievre.

Pierre Poilievre statement

He was responding to a claim from the Australian owner of the Eagle’s Nest, a promising mining asset in the Ring of Fire, who said Canada’s regulatory process was burdensome and the consultation process cumbersome.

“We're not against development in any way,” said Sutherland, but she stresses that the Matawa chiefs have made arguments to be co-leads on the environment, “because it's our home.”

And, “If Doug Ford is ever going to talk about how much revenue the Ring of Fire stands to make, the only proper question we have to ask is, how much of that revenue is coming to us,” Sutherland said of the accommodation requirements for impacts on treaty rights, lost access to lands and interruption of traditional and cultural activities on those lands.

Two Matawa Nations, Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations, have signed a memorandum of understanding for exploration of the mineral deposits by Eagle’s Nest in the Ring of Fire.

This past March, Ontario approved terms of reference submitted by the two Nations for the construction of an all-season, multi-use road that would connect Webequie and Marten Falls and the Ring of Fire mining development area to Ontario’s highway network. The road corridor secures the supply chain by providing access to manufacturing hubs in the south. The Nations led the environmental assessment for the road, reads a press statement.

Ford said his government had put billions of dollars toward “critical legacy infrastructure in the Ring of Fire area, including constructing all‑season roads, investing in high-speed internet, road upgrades and community supports.”

“This isn't just going to bring opportunity and employment to the First Nations community. It’s going to bring proper healthcare to the community. It’s going to bring fresh food to the community. These communities are fly-in communities and they're struggling,” said Ford.

Neskantaga First Nation Chief Christopher Moonias is accusing Ontario of using “divide and conquer” tactics and “undermining the unity of the Matawa First Nations by offering backroom deals to some.”

Sutherland is clear that that strategy will not work as the Matawa Nations “are not in any way adversary…We're here to protect the land. That's it. That's all.”

“If the two First Nations are wanting a road access to the rest of the world, then they're entitled to advance their community concerns and wishes as well. And we're not opposed to that. All we're asking is, ‘Hey, get off the bulldozer,’” said Sutherland.

She said that “bulldozer” is not the only piece of equipment being used to pressure the Matawa Nations. There is the Building More Mines Act, Ford’s press releases and news conferences, and “Doug Ford making all these solutions without the First Nations, especially the Matawa chiefs, without our participation. It's…disrespectful and ludicrous.”

The Building More Mines Act, said Moonias, “would fast-track development in our territories, without consulting affected First Nations.”

Moonias says Ontario needs to uphold the standard of free, prior and informed consent.

Underscoring that point is legal action launched in April.

Neskantaga and Constance Lake were joined by the First Nations of Attawapiskat, Apitipi Anicinapek, Aroland, Eabametoong, Fort Albany, Ginoogaming, Kashechewan, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in challenging the version of Treaty 9 used by the Crown to make unilateral decisions that impact the way of life for First Nations.

Legal action was launched only days after a joint announcement by Ford and Trudeau of a Volkswagen electric vehicle battery factory slated for St. Thomas, Ont. Both levels of government have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to Volkswagen to entice the German-based company to select Ontario for the factory.

The Treaty 9 Statement of Claim seeks a $95 billion settlement based on a percentage of the gross revenue Ontario has earned from the Treaty 9 land mass over 120 years.

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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.