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First Nations leaders back at Queen’s Park to push Ontario Premier Ford to end mining activity on their land

Leaders from four First Nations in northern Ontario returned to Queen’s Park on Tuesday to push back against mining activity on their lands, and are calling out Premier Doug Ford for offering up Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford to meet with them in his place.

Members of the First Nations Land Defence Alliance, formed earlier this year in response to a rise in mining claims staked on their traditional territories, held a news conference Tuesday morning.

The alliance says chiefs invited Ford to meet with them last week in front of the Legislature, to sign a declaration committing to end mining activity on their lands without their free, prior and informed consent. Rickford, minister of northern development and Indigenous affairs, wrote them Friday, agreeing to meet with them. 

But alliance leaders turned down the offer to meet with Rickford, with an adviser for Grassy Narrows saying they “took it as an insult” and wanted to meet with Ford.

“It’s Ford who sets the policies for his government and he’s the one that’s been saying that he wants to proceed with [the] Ring of Fire and other mining activities,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle during Tuesday morning’s news conference. 

According to Turtle, “There are about 5,000 mining claims in our traditional territory alone, and we weren’t told properly and actually they were given permission without any free, prior and informed consent from us — so we’re not very happy about that.”

Ring of Fire area a particular concern

Members of the First Nations alliance are Grassy Narrows, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Muskrat Dam, Neskantaga and Wapekeka First Nations. All except Muskrat Dam were at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.

They’re particularly concerned about the Ring of Fire, a mineral-rich area in Treaty 9 territory that has seen significant proposed mining and infrastructure projects. 

A man speaks into a microphone.
Turtle speaks with other Land Defence Alliance members earlier this summer in Toronto, during a rally against mining proposals on their land. They returned to Queen’s Park this week to try to force a meeting with Premier Doug Ford. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When asked what the alliance would do if the province goes ahead with mining exploration, Turtle said they will set up blockades if necessary.

“That’s not our preference — we prefer that we sit at the table and hopefully [Ford is] smart enough to do that. But if he’s gonna just keep to his word, bulldozing his way, then I can tell you he’s gonna meet resistance,” Turtle said.

Ford questioned about chiefs’ meeting request

Shortly after noon ET, the alliance leaders set up a table outside the Legislature and were prepared to meet with Ford so he could address their concerns, but he didn’t show up.

During question period, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa asked the premier if he’d sit down at that table.

Ford did not directly answer whether he’d meet with the chiefs, but instead said he always answers phone calls and emails from First Nations leaders.

“I’ve heard from the First Nations communities and they have said there’s never been a premier that’s been more accessible,” Ford said.

Mamakwa said Ford was referring to a different slate of Chiefs — not those at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.

“If he is unwilling to meet with them, it just means that he does not care about First Nations,” Mamakwa said.

Official Opposition criticizes Ford’s approach 

NDP MPP Marit Stiles, leader of the Official Opposition, attended the First Nations leaders’ meeting on the lawn alongside Mamakwa, and criticized Ford for not sitting at the table with them.

“You have attempted many times to have the premier come to meet with you. It’s very clear that this government hasn’t gotten the message yet and so we’re going to keep bringing that message forward,” Stiles said. 

“The premier needs to hear first hand from community members who are right now continuing to live with the impact of development of resource extraction in their communities,” she said.

Mamakwa called Ford’s actions oppressive and “directly from the colonial playbook.”

As of 1 p.m., Ford had not come outside to meet with the leaders.

March to Queen’s Park planned

Alongside hundreds of community members and supporters, alliance members plan to march from Grange Park to Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon to voice concerns about mining claims they say are staked without their consent.

This week’s events are the latest in a series of pushbacks this year against mining: 

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