Facing down governments and industry, this First Nation makes a promise: There’ll be no development in the Ring of Fire without its consent

CBC News

By Logan Turner, CBC News

Clayton John Moonias reaches through a heavy morning fog to grab the net he set days earlier.

As he lifts the line out of the water, Moonias flashes a knowing look to his son Landon, who’s seated up front, and pulls in the first of nearly a dozen Lake Sturgeon he’ll harvest that morning.

His family has fished these waters along the Attawapiskat River in remote northern Ontario for generations. For him and others from Neskantaga First Nation, the sturgeon are a way of life.

“Sturgeon is a very important food source. It’s an important part of who we are as a nation,” Neskantaga’s chief, Wayne Moonias, says as he watches Clayton John slip another fish into a tarp on the floor of the cedar canoe.

“This is what we’re fighting for,” Moonias says.

Neskantaga is an Ojibway First Nation with about 300 members living on its reserve some 400 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

The First Nation has long been among the most vocal critics of plans to build a proposed road that would connect the Ring of Fire mineral deposit to the highway networks and manufacturing might of Ontario’s south. Now, they’re working to start a sturgeon stewardship program in an effort to protect the fish from proposed development.

Even with the most optimistic of estimates, shovels for the proposed Ring of Fire project are years away from going into the ground, but people in Neskantaga First Nation feel a growing sense of urgency.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has made his intentions clear about opening up the Ring of Fire for development, and big players in the mining and electric vehicle (EV) industries are circling.


That idea is just a new public relations campaign for an old industry, says Jamie Kneen, the Canada program co-lead for MiningWatch Canada, a non-governmental organization based in Ottawa that acts as an industry watchdog.

“What’s different is that the justification [for mining] is being framed in terms of the energy transition, and I find that really problematic because it’s not a deep enough restructuring to address the climate crisis,” Kneen says.


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