TORONTO — A plan designed by two First Nations to build a road to potential mining sites in Ontario’s Ring of Fire has been approved by the provincial government, but the mining minister has refused to say when the project would be completed.
Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation designed and submitted the now-approved plan that will link their First Nations and mining sites to Ontario’s road network.
The Ring of Fire region about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay is said to be rich in critical minerals and the province has made long-standing promises to develop and mine the area.
Mining Minister George Pirie called questions about the timeline to build the long-discussed road “hypothetical.”
“It’s another hypothetical question, there’s lots of steps that have to be finished prior to a mining operation being built,” Pirie said at a mining conference in Toronto on Monday.
Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Achneepineskum said the project will help bring much needed prosperity to the community.
“Our youth are the hardest hit right now in terms of the socioeconomic issues and we want to improve that through better services, better infrastructure and building our communities,” Achneepineskum said.
The province is making a big push on electric vehicles with the goal of creating a domestic supply chain from mineral extraction to assembling cars within Ontario.
The Ring of Fire project still faces several environmental assessments that must be completed before any work can begin.
Ontario and the federal government have entered into an agreement to protect boreal caribou, which is considered a threatened species in the province.
Ontario Environment Minister David Piccini said the province will make sure to uphold the Endangered Species Act.
“There are a number of studies that will take place over the coming months to ensure that we’re protecting species at risk and mitigating adverse effects while also providing an overall benefit to those species,” Piccini said.
Achneepineskum said First Nation people have their own laws with nature and any harm from the project must be mitigated.
“It’s important for us to maintain the principles that we have lived by for countless generations and that’s living in harmony with Mother Nature and all the animals and fish.”