06/08/2012 07:20 EDT | Updated 08/08/2012 05:12 EDT

N. Ont. First Nation confronts foreign mining interests

Marten Falls First Nation Chief Eli Moonias says his northern Ontario community will need to see the benefits of a multibillion-dollar mining project before it gives its approval, something he says Canada as a whole must also consider.

“We will agree only if our community will improve,” says the chief.

The proposed Cliffs Natural Resources chromite mine site is in an area known as the Ring of Fire, about 540 kilometres north of Thunder Bay in the James Bay Lowlands. The American company plans to remove up to 12,000 tonnes of ore every day for 30 years.

“It’s not just us that are small, you’re small too,” Moonias told reporters visiting Marten Falls on Thursday, suggesting Canada’s best interests don’t necessarily harmonize with global trading priorities.

The proposed project in northern Ontario includes a smelter near Sudbury, Ont.

Moonias said Cliffs intends to export 40 per cent of the chromite it plans to mine near his community to China.

“It is done for the many at the expense of the few,” he said. “The language is nearly the same in the way Cliffs talks, in the way the government talks [about the proposed mine]. “Now they want to ship that ore — our ore, your ore — to China,” he added.

“Now there’s lots of people over there and we’re not included in their formula. So don’t call us tiny anymore, because you’re tiny too.”

Full environmental assessment needed, chief says

Moonias said Marten Falls is used to seeing development over the years that benefits industry in southern Ontario, while leaving First Nations mired in poverty.

Moonias hopes the provincial government is prepared to act on its treaty obligations to Marten Falls First Nation. Treaty 9, to which Marten Falls is a signatory, is one of the few treaties that both the federal and provincial governments signed.

“Let’s say we find a way to agree and the development does occur,” Moonias said. “I don’t think we want to be in a situation where we’re calling an emergency because of lack of housing, or because our people are destroying themselves with drugs because they haven’t found something to live for.”

Moonias said he also wants a full environmental assessment, including public hearings, before agreeing to the mine. The project includes a road to the mine site, crossing more than 100 bodies of water

The chief calls the company’s planned 2015 start date “ambitious.”

All about work, resident says

Some community members say they’re interested in getting a job as part of the mining development.

Robert Achneepineskum said he’s not aware of any Marten Falls members being employed by any of the mining companies currently active in the area, but he’d like to be one of the first.

“Just work,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Gordon Baxter said he’d like to see people being trained now for jobs that would be available if the mines open. But even with the promise of jobs, Baxter worries about the effects of the development.

The proposed road to the mine runs right through his trap line, he said, and one of the bridges for the road will disrupt a main spawning area on the river.

“The fish will move away, and they’ll be no fish in my freezer to feed my kids,” he said.