“They’re going to have to run me over” – Neskangtaga Chief Moonias

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Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias has made a strong statement at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) meeting today rejecting Ontario’s latest plans to move forward with the Ring of Fire without his community’s consent.

Ontario announced its approval of the Terms of Reference for an environmental assessment of the Northern Road Link, an industrial mining road that Moonias says will fragment sensitive carbon-rich peatlands in the Attawapiskat River watershed.

Neskantaga First Nation is a small Anishinaabe community on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake in the far north of the province that has been a vocal opponent of developing the Ring of Fire. The proposed Northern Road Link is an industrial mining road that would serve eventual mines in the Ring of Fire region. In order to reach the mineral deposits, it will have to cross the Attawapiskat River, what Chief Moonias calls the “lifeblood” of his people and vital habitat for threatened lake sturgeon.

“If Premier Ford wants to get on a bulldozer, if the CEO of Ring of Fire Metals wants to get on a bulldozer, they’re going to have to run me over,” said Chief Wayne Moonias upon hearing the announcement from the province Monday that the terms of reference for the Northern Road Link were approved. “That is how important this river system, and the sturgeon, are to our community. Even if it is to risk our own lives, we intend to protect our homelands.”

Neskantaga First Nation holds the shameful distinction of the longest running boil water advisory in the country, at 28 years. “But despite all the trauma and grief,” Chief Moonias says, “the land sustains us. It provides the balance, it is what connects us. We intend to stand firm on our position and to remain strong and united.”

“Neskantaga has been very clear about what they expect. They expect their laws and protocols to apply on their lands. We are asking the province to respect that, and to commit to the standard of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) which applies according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Dayna Nadine Scott, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and the York Research Chair in Environmental Law & Justice in the Green Economy.

This announcement is a reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous communities in Canada to protect their lands and waters from destructive resource extraction projects. The Neskantaga First Nation’s opposition to the Northern Road Link serves as a powerful statement of their resolve to protect their homelands and to demand the recognition of their inherent rights as Indigenous peoples.