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Chief of Neskantaga First Nation, Chris Moonias.DAVID JACKSON/The Globe and Mail

As land defenders work to prevent a pipeline from ripping through Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, cast your eyes to Northern Ontario, where First Nations are also trying to push back against colonial governments looking to plunder the land.

Just a month after Canada talked a good game at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit – but many years after Indigenous people first sounded alarms about the perils of what Canadians were doing to the land – two potential climate change catastrophes are playing out on Treaty 3, Robinson Superior and Treaty 9 territories. That territory comprises most of the area in Ontario north of Lake Superior.

The first involves the Ring of Fire. Named by a Canadian mining explorer who was a fan of Johnny Cash, the Ring of Fire is 5,120 square kilometres of untouched peat moss, lakes and land located about 500 km north of Thunder Bay. Inside this area is one of the world’s largest deposits of chromite, which is used to make stainless steel. It’s also one of the last carbon storehouses on the planet.

But in an effort to get out of billions in COVID-19 debt, Canada and Ontario have stuck a giant “for sale” sign in the North – and everything is negotiable in the Ring of Fire.

In the summer of 2020, the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario used its majority to quickly ram through an omnibus COVID-19 economic-recovery bill without public consultation. That significant piece of legislation, Bill 197, included provisions to effectively erase requirements around environmental assessments for resource-extraction projects; First Nations communities, which are the custodians of the land, also no longer need to be consulted.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford has publicly stated that development in the Ring of Fire is going ahead “if I have to hop on a bulldozer myself,” and that he’s got First Nations support. But the Premier overstates, Attawapiskat Chief David Nakogee, Neskantaga Chief Wayne Moonias and Fort Albany Chief Robert Nakogee wrote in a letter to Mr. Ford last week, because not all Nations think as one and agree.

Mr. Ford’s actions are “the very essence of the industrialism that has led us into a countdown toward permanent and catastrophic climate change from which we many never recover,” they wrote.

The other potential disaster comes in the form of more than 50,000 tonnes of radioactive waste, which could be dumped on Northern Ontario land dangerously close to the Arctic watershed, where all the rivers and waters on the continent begin to turn either south to the cities or north to James Bay and Hudson Bay.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, founded by Ontario Power Generation, Hydro-Québec and New Brunswick Power, is looking to dispose used nuclear fuel by burying it deep in a geological repository. It is now deciding where exactly it can store that significant amount of radioactive waste – either near Teeswater, Ont., or near Ignace, Ont., which is on Treaty 3 territory.

Borehole drilling near Teeswater happened in May, while that work in Ignace has just finished, all to test if it can safely and suitably house what is being billed as “Canada’s first spent nuclear fuel repository.” Those in Ignace largely appear open to the highly dangerous waste, but Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa (Grand Chief) Francis Kavanaugh cautions nothing will happen without First Nations approval.

“One thing they don’t realize is that they are in our territory, 55,000 square miles of Treaty 3,” Mr. Kavanaugh said. “All the waters in that area flow toward our lakes and river systems. For some, wanting to approve the storage of the waste, they are only looking at the money. For some, money is more important than life itself but nibi” – the Anishinabemowin word for water – “nibi is life.”

Ripping through the James Bay Lowlands with a bulldozer and dumping nuclear waste in another area of undeveloped land should not sit well with anyone concerned with saving the warming Earth.

Yet Canadian governments and business have long taken advantage of Northern Ontario – greedily dragging out diamonds, gold, lumber and clean water for all it has got to give, while leaving behind whatever they want. Meanwhile, Neskantaga First Nation has now gone 9,800 days under a boil-water advisory. When will these contradictions ever end?

First Nations peoples are not afraid to fight back, even though we know what Canada too often does in response: send in militarized police forces, as they have on Wet’suwet’en and on Six Nations territory. This, in a country that says it supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but does not abide by it.

At the very least, the Ontario government showed what it really thinks. In September, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa’s UNDRIP bill died on the order paper when the Ford government prorogued the legislature.

It does not give a damn.

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