Skip to content

LETTER: Chiefs pen letter to federal minister after Ring of Fire meeting

Read the full letter sent to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change outlining concerns with the Ring of Fire assessment process
2021-03-19 Letter to the editor
Stock image

Following a meeting with federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, the chiefs of five First Nations wrote a letter following up about their concerns with the Ring of Fire process. The full letter follows:

Dear Minister:

Re: Regional Assessment in the Ring of Fire Area – Follow up on Zoom Call 

Thank you Minister for meeting with us over Zoom on Jan. 17. We voiced our deep concerns about the Terms of Reference for the Regional Impact Assessment for the region we know as the  Breathing Lands, in which there is a push to develop a massive mining complex in the Ring of  Fire. These are the world’s lungs, and rampant mining development could not only destroy this globally critical carbon sink, but release its huge store of carbon and escalate climate change further into catastrophe. Development here would be reckless if it occurs without full, robust investigation of all the potential consequences – something that a proper RIA should do. 

What Canada, in agreement with Ontario, plans to do is far from proper or safe, and instead promotes recklessness and danger. Your draft TOR is narrow in geographic and activity scope, and wrongly excludes us Indigenous peoples from all but token roles. 

We Indigenous Nations are born of the Breathing Lands and it is our duty to protect them. The  Breathing Lands need us as its guardians. We have millennia of knowledge, wisdom and a holistic worldview that understands these Lands. We have Inherent Jurisdiction to carry out our responsibilities here. We do not need the Crown’s permission to do so. You baldly assert sovereignty here; we have it. What we have asked you to do is to stop sabotaging our efforts and to instead use your laws and tools to work with us. 

In brief, this is what we told you: 

  • What is needed: Indigenous leadership of a robust investigation and decision-making process for what can and should happen with the Breathing Lands,  including the Ring of Fire. 
  • Retract the Terms of Reference for the Regional Impact Assessment. They are fundamentally flawed in their scope, purpose, and legitimacy, and they cannot be fixed. Start afresh with a commitment to have the Regional Impact Assessment mutually and equally co-developed and co-led and co-enforced by an Indigenous  Governing Body (a term used in your Impact Assessment Act) that we Indigenous Nations will develop. We will ensure the RIA is wide and deep and strong. 
  • We need your decision by Jan. 28. Yes or no: will you tear up the current TOR and agreement with Ontario, and restart in equality with us Indigenous Nations to develop an RIA that will accomplish what the Breathing Lands and humanity require.  

We also told you that offering more time to comment on the current TOR is not the solution, as they are so broken they cannot be fixed. More time will not help this. 

There is far too much at stake to allow First Nations to be shuffled to the side again. We will not accept mere "participation" in a unilateral, top-down, Crown-led process that ignores our jurisdiction, laws, and responsibilities. Anything less than equal partnership in the development,  implementation and enforcement of a robust RIA will not be enough to ensure this critical investigation and decision-making tool will be done right. 

We are from here and have always been here and have been the only peoples here, ever. Western ways have led us to a climate crisis, and too many Western "solutions" to this crisis are being built on the further sacrifice of Indigenous peoples' Territories, Rights, and futures. We will not sit on the sidelines and watch this happen in the Breathing Lands. Any attempt by the Crown  to come back with less than the equality we have asked for and deserve, and which the fight against climate disaster needs, will be seen as nothing but an attempt to dress up a broken  window with pretty drapes. And any such attempt will lead to our active enforcement of the  Moratorium issued last Apri.

It is within your power to address our concerns. This harmful and dishonourable course has been set under the watch of your Ministry. We look forward to your definitive, yes or no answer by  Jan. 28.


Chief David Nakogee, Attawapiskat First Nation
Acting Chief Louie Sugarhead, Eabametoong First Nation
Chief Robert Nakogee, Fort Albany First Nation 
Chief Gaius Wesley, Kashechewan First Nation
Chief Wayne Moonias, Neskantaga First Nation