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Fort Albany First Nation 'alarmed' at plan for Ring of Fire road link

Chief Leo Metatawabin says it raises concerns about free, prior and informed consent.

TORONTO — A second northern Ontario First Nation is speaking out against the Ford government's deal with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to collaborate on building a road to the Ring of Fire.

Chief Leo Metatawabin of Fort Albany First Nation, on the James Bay coast, says the project "could majorly increase" harmful environmental impacts.

Marten Falls wants a connection to the provincial highway system via the Aroland area, while Webequie, farther north, hopes to build a road from its territory to an exploration camp in the Ring of Fire.

If these roads are built, the government announced Monday, it will work with the two communities to connect the two sections with a Northern Road Link.

In a news release issued Tuesday through a Toronto law office, Metatawabin said it appears Ontario has been working "behind the scenes" with Marten Falls and Webequie.

Metatawabin said Fort Albany has been participating "in good faith" in consultations related to the impact and environmental assessment processes for the initial two road projects.

It is "deeply concerning," he said, that his community has been excluded from important intergovernmental leadership meetings on a project that will have major impacts on its traditional territory.

Metatawabin added that "this raises serious concerns about Free, Prior and Informed consent, the transparency and integrity of the environmental assessment processes, and whether Ontario is meeting its duty to consult."

"Our people will not accept this," he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed Monday by Neskantaga First Nation.

The government announcement Monday stated that it's delivering on its promise to move forward with the development of the Ring of Fire "with willing partners."

Last summer, Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford announced that the government was abandoning the previous Liberal government's approach of trying to negotiate agreements with all nine First Nations in the Ring of Fire region.

Rickford said the new strategy would enable the government to address specific community needs and opportunities.

He stated that despite over a decade of talk, and expenditures of over $20 million,  progress on the Ring of Fire had been met with "delay after delay."

Then-Premier Kathleen Wynne had warned two years earlier that she was also prepared to move to bilateral talks if there was no progress on an overall deal.

Under Wynne, the province was able to sign agreements with three of the First Nations.

NDP MPP Michael Mantha, the Opposition critic for Northern Development and Mines, said Monday that, after two years in office, the Ford government has "managed to rip up those agreements, destroy the regional framework agreement, then get two of nine agreements signed."

Mantha said "Three steps backward and two steps forward does not equal progress – at this rate, the Ring of Fire may never be built.”

- TBNewsWatch