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Neskantaga First Nation Battles American Mining Goliath Cliffs in Toronto Mining Court

Toronto – Today the Neskantaga First Nation is taking their fight for proper First Nation consultation in the Ring of Fire to the Toronto Mining Court.

The Mining Court decision could have a major impact not only on the law but on the American Mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources aggressive timetable to build the only road into Ontario's first chromite mine; a $3.3 Billion project Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has described as Ontario's oil sands and in the “national interest.”

”This is about a small First Nation in Northern Ontario standing up against an American mining bully hell bent on making a road and a mine no matter what First Nations say,” said Chief Peter Moonias of Neskantaga. ”The McGuinty government continues to ignore First Nations and is desperate to see this Northern Ontario mega project go ahead.  We have Constitutional and aboriginal and treaty rights on our side and we hope the Mining Court can help us put this road and mine on hold until we are meaningfully consulted and accommodated.”

The legal problem before the Mining Court today is the gate keeping question of standing: Does Neskantaga have standing to challenge the Cliffs road application. Once across that threshold Neskantaga intends to argue that the Commissioner has no jurisdiction to deal with Cliffs road application unless and until Neskantaga has been meaningfully consulted and their interests accommodated.

”The courts have said that the Crown's duty of consultation arises early in the process. To be meaningful, consultation must take place before key decisions are made that advance a project,” said Matthew Kirchner, Neskantaga legal counsel.  “This is a massive project that will open up the Neskantaga homeland for the first time, threatening the Neskantaga's rivers, fish, wildlife and their very way of life. Ontario and Cliffs have gone a long way down the path towards building this project without Neskantaga input and that is a problem that must be addressed.”

This is only the first in many legal and other hurdles facing Cliffs and Ontario. In October 201, Neskantaga and several other First Nations launched a judicial review of the federal decision to conduct simply a short paper environmental assessment of the project rather than a full and thorough joint panel review of the project with hearings in the remote First Nations affected by the project. At issue is Cliffs “social license” to operate, with Cliffs facing a serious risk that their chromite will be labelled “conflict chromite.”

”All local communities—First Nations or otherwise—must have the right to refuse projects that are potentially harmful to their health and their environment,” said Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest social justice organization. “These are the people and places that are meant to benefit from the economic development brought by these projects, so if they think that the risks are too great, our government must listen.”

Greenpeace, Mining Watch Canada, and Amnesty International have weighed in on recent federal efforts to gut the environmental assessment process in Canada. These organizations support the rights of First Nations like Neskantaga to free, prior and informed consent to projects like the Cliffs road and mine.

In late June 2012, Neskantaga and five other First Nations issued a moratorium on mining development in the Ring of Fire and put mining companies, including Cliffs, on notice that the First Nations were preparing to evict them unless a government to government process was created to address First Nation concerns about strategic decision making in the region, a negotiated full and thorough environmental assessment, the social needs of communities and First Nation participation, revenue and benefit sharing.

The moratorium has the public support of the Ontario Regional Chief, Stan Beardy; the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, an organization that represents 49 First Nations in Treaty Nos.9 and 5 including Neskantaga; the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council representing First Nations downstream of the proposed mine; and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias has publicly stated that: “They're going to have to cross that river, and I told them if they want to cross that river, they're going to have to kill me first. That's how strongly I feel about my people's rights here.”