Ontario government ends Ring of Fire regional agreement with Matawa First Nations

Funding for regional talks between province, 9 Matawa First Nations ran out in late 2018


Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford has ended the regional framework agreement between the province and the Matawa First Nations that was designed to guide talks over the Ring of Fire. (Martine Laberge/CBC)

The provincial government has officially ended the regional framework agreement between Queen’s Park and the First Nations closest to the Ring of Fire, pledging to move forward with a series of bilateral agreements that the province’s Indigenous Affairs minister says will remove delays to completing projects that communities themselves want to see.

At the top of that list, Greg Rickford said in an interview with CBC News, is a north-south corridor that, not only could lead to road access to the mineral-rich James Bay lowlands, but can also connect by road, as well as add to the provincial power grid and expand modern telecommunications to, “at least four, five Indigenous communities.”

“That has additional health and social and economic benefits that move beyond the more obvious opportunities of creating mines,” he said.

“To the extent that Noront [Resources] or other mining companies could build mines on that corridor, then we have a great value proposition.”

Rickford said that pursuing individual agreements with First Nations as they are ready to proceed with individual projects is a “pragmatic” approach, adding that the regional framework agreement had “come off line,” and that over $20 million has been spent without “shovels in the ground.”

“Today’s about being inspired by Indigenous communities and their leaders to start moving the Ring of Fire, broadly speaking, to the sound of business.”

But the opposition New Democrats’ Indigenous Affairs critic said he’s concerned that a series of one-on-one agreements can be used as a “divide and conquer approach,” between individual First Nations.

“The regional framework agreement provided a process of dialogue [for] First Nations and, not only that, it … gave communities a process to work together,” Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa said. MORE

Last Stand for the Garden of Eden

Howler Monkey

The riot of roads exploding across our planet—bringing with it tsunamis of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss—at times seems almost unstoppable.

But there are some places so special, such as Manu National Park in Peru, that should remain free of the Pandora’s box of disruption that roads bring.

The most biodiverse place on Earth

To wake at dawn under the forest canopy in Manu National Park is to experience Life.  Every niche, nook, and cranny is filled with it.

The deep chorus of howler monkeys in morning pounds through your chest.  Over 800 species of birds fill the trees.  Alligator-like caiman roar in the oxbow lakes, while endangered giant otters gather in playful gangs.

Jaguars are almost common here—some 6,000 of the giant cats are thought to prowl about the Park—and are one of 13 different cat species in this global biodiversity hotspot that just might be the most profound expression of life on Earth.

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Manu National Park is the glistening gem in Peru’s protected area network.  The 1.7-million-hectare World Heritage site in the Texas-sized province of Madre de Dios (“Mother of God” in Spanish), is the only park in South America that protects the entire watershed of a major Amazonian tributary, from the high Andes to the Amazonian lowlands.

No roads run through it…

Travel within Manu is by boat or by foot. Uncontacted indigenous people still live there despite the depredations a century ago by a wealthy rubber baron, Carlos Fitzcarrald.

With no access to Manu, Fitzcarrald dismantled an entire steamship and had it portaged through 12 kilometers of unchartered rainforest to the Manu watershed—in the process killing hundreds of indigenous people.  The survivors fled and their decedents remain in voluntary isolation today as uncontacted peoples.

Still no road runs through Manu.  But that could soon change.

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Until now

A new road is being built illegally to the mouth of the Manu River.  This will sweep to the notorious, illegal gold mining fields near Boca Colorado—an environmental and social travesty so bad it drew the ire of Pope Francis.  In a 2018 visit to the region, he decried the illegal gold miners and their “devastating assault on life”.

Mining, illegal loggers, and “agro-industrial monocultivation,” the Pope said, all threaten territories where indigenous people live.  These activities follow roads that slice and dice Earth’s ecosystems.

Nothing on Earth rivals road-building as a threat to nature.  Not even climate change.

The road to Manu began encroaching on the region in the 1960s.  It left the adjacent forest in tatters from illegal logging and wildlife poaching—with thousands of giant otters, jaguars, and black caiman killed annually.

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Despite some setbacks, the fatal road’s expansion continues. Politicians with ties to illegal gold mining are pushing it hard.  And the governor of Madre de Dios, himself a former illegal miner, clamors for the road—now a mere 100 kilometers away from the mouth of the Manu River.

By hook or—more likely—by corrupt crook, this road will continue to assault Eden unless the world wakes up and acts decisively. If completed, it is expected to cause the loss of over 43,000 hectares of rainforest—the equivalent of 100,000 football fields.

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The illusion of economic growth

The road is popular with local villagers because of the high cost of boat transport and the allure of quick economic growth.

But just scratching the surface reveals an alternative truth.  Just take the section of the road that has been there for 30 years.  It has led to negligible economic progress.  Any wealth generated by illegal resource extraction has bled to outsiders.

Elsewhere in the world, poorly planned roads in remote regions have to led, not to economic growth, but to increased local poverty as outside encroachers and foreign investors gobble up most of the profits.

This is a knife

As tragic as the Manu Road is, it is a mere scratch compared to the horrendous damage that will be inflicted by the newly approved Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road on the northern boundary of Manu.

Approved a month before the visit of the Pope, this 277 kilometer-long road will slice straight through one of the greatest untamed rainforest tracts in the world, centered on Alto Purus National Park.

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Using estimates of forest loss from the nearby Inter-Oceanic Highway in Peru (itself an economic and environmental disaster), the Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road will destroy an incredible 275,000 hectares of primary forest.

Renowned ecologist John Terborgh, a member of ALERT, with 40 years of experience in Madre de Dios, says it might cost 100 times less to buy out the 1,200 or so residents of Puerto Esperanza and set them up with stately homes in the city, than to construct this deadly road.

Why build it?  Beyond its catastrophic environmental impacts, the road will likely destroy some of the last uncontacted tribes in Earth, and will have dubious economic benefits for locals.  MORE

Doug Ford’s repeal of the Far North Act won’t gain the respect of Indigenous communities


Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski seen at the Conservative government’s swearing-in ceremony on June 29, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Late last month, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government confirmed that it plans to repeal the Far North Act, seeking to reduce “red tape” and increase “business certainty” in the Ring of Fire – a mineral deposit located near James Bay. While Premier Doug Ford is not the first to think he has found a key to unlocking the resource potential of Ontario’s north, this strategy is sure to backfire.

Ontario’s far north is inhabited almost exclusively by Indigenous peoples with ancestral homelands in the area covered by Treaty 9. It is a vast landscape of swampy boreal forest, a gigantic carbon sink that is also home to rare creatures such as the woodland caribou and the wolverine. Except for the De Beers diamond mine near Attawapiskat, there has been almost no industrial scale development in the whole region, which is why mining the hyped-up nickel and chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire region will require major new roads and other infrastructure.

When the Liberals first introduced the Far North Act in 2010, they did so over the objections of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). The plan was to “protect” 50 per cent of the boreal wilderness, while “partnering” with First Nations in decision-making and revenue-sharing so as to facilitate mining. But while celebrated as an ecological victory, the scheme was actually designed to manage the increasing volume and credibility of claims to Indigenous governance authority in the region. Ontario, in the years prior to the act’s passage, had been forced to pay off mining companies to settle litigation alleging that Ontario was failing to facilitate access to companies’ mineral assets in the face of Indigenous resistance.

With the Far North Act, then, Ontario was trying to maintain the facade that it alone has the jurisdiction to make land-use decisions in Treaty 9 territory. Under the scheme that Mr. Ford now wants to scrap, remote First Nations are given funding to create community-based land-use plans that map out in detail the historical and contemporary uses of various parts of their territories. Communities can identify areas of significant value such as burial sites, fishing areas or traplines, and may designate areas as open for – or closed to – mineral exploration. But, in the end, the Minister decides whether to approve the plan; final authority remains with the province to make a decision in the “best interests of all Ontarians.” MORE

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Ford government proposes to scrap controversial law placing ‘restrictions’ on development in northern Ontario

Why Canada’s boreal forest is gaining international attention

The green ribbon that makes up 75 per cent of Canada’s forests is among the largest intact wildernesses on the planet. Environmentalists call it ‘one of the last great conservation opportunities.’ What do we need to do to save the boreal?

Image result for Why Canada’s boreal forest is gaining international attention

As the world’s ecological crisis becomes better understood, the boreal forest is becoming somewhat of a celebrity because of one jaw-dropping stat: the Canadian boreal represents 25 per cent of the planet’s remaining intact forest, leading the world alongside the Amazon.

What’s more, around 80 per cent of Canada’s boreal is still relatively intact — a rare thing in today’s world.

But the boreal is facing threats from logging, mining, fires, pests and the many ways those factors interact with climate change.

“We have to recognize that this is one of the last great conservation opportunities in human evolution on Earth,” says Jeff Wells, science and policy director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative.

The boreal is one of our best hopes for mitigating the effects of climate change and keeping the Earth habitable. Yet it also houses huge deposits of oil and gas and minerals. The decisions being made to protect or exploit it could have repercussions for generations. MORE

Ford government proposes to scrap controversial law placing ‘restrictions’ on development in northern Ontario


Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski seen at the Conservative government’s swearing-in ceremony on June 29, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

The grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is cautiously welcoming a proposal by Premier Doug Ford’s government to repeal a 2010 law that his nation viewed as a form of colonialism.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler made the comments after Premier Doug Ford’s government announced a public consultation to repeal the Far North Act, legislation adopted by the former provincial Liberal government that gave First Nations some control over development in their traditional territories.

The government said on Monday that it was proposing to repeal the law with the aim of “reducing red tape and restrictions on important economic development projects” in the northern part of the province, including the Ring of Fire, all-season roads and electrical transmission projects.

This objective has some critics skeptical about the government’s intentions. This includes one critic who described the review as a plan to get “First Nations out of the way” to facilitate industry and government’s mining aspirations. MORE