12/27/2012 10:58 EST | Updated 02/26/2013 05:12 EST

The main characters in the Ring of Fire mining drama in northern Ontario

MARTEN FALLS, Ont. - Some of the key players in the Ring of Fire mining development in northern Ontario:

Cliffs Natural Resources: A Cleveland-based multinational mining company that produces iron ore in Brazil, Australia, Minnesota and Labrador. Cliffs wants to spend more than $3 billion to develop its solely owned Black Thor chromite deposit through two open pit mines and later an underground mine, a development that would span 30 years. The ore would be refined near Sudbury, Ont.

Noront: A Toronto-based company that focuses on exploring and acquiring base metal interests. It has invested $100 million in exploration of the Ring of Fire since 2007. It wants to start mining its Eagle's Nest nickel-copper deposit by 2016, with a life expectancy of 11 years.

Government of Ontario: The provincial government has jurisdiction over natural resources and mining, so many of the permits needed to develop Ring of Fire come from Queen's Park. Ontario also has to give environmental approvals, and is working with Ottawa on environmental assessment not just of the projects but also the infrastructure. Ontario negotiated a deal with Cliffs to build a smelter near Sudbury. The provincial government won't give specifics on what kind of hydro subsidies or financing they offered for transportation to the mine site.

Government of Canada: The federal government has responsibility for aboriginal affairs. Ottawa also conducts environmental assessments of the road and mining developments, and will likely help fund some of the infrastructure needed to make the projects viable. But perhaps its most poignant involvement in the Ring of Fire is political. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made "responsible resource development" his principle philosophy, one that reaches into almost every federal department and policy.

First Nations: The Ring of Fire is spread over the traditional lands of the Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations, and will likely affect the lives of people living in Fort Hope, Neskantaga, Attawapiskat, Aroland and Nibinamik. They are among the most disenfranchised communities in Canada, dealing with low levels of education, huge levels of unemployment, poor education, suicide and rampant drug addiction. Most of the communities are reachable only by air, or by winter road.

Sources: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Government of Ontario