Thank you for allowing me to speak here for the few minutes I have. I hope in this short time I do some justice to the people I represent.
We are located on the Albany River, at the junction of the Ogoki and Albany Rivers. We were the third peoples that signed Treaty 9, in 1905. We are about 150 kilometres from Nakina and another 150 kilometres from the Ring of Fire, which is our territory. The Black Thor, Eagle's Nest and Big Daddy deposits are major deposits and are in our territory. They are not Webequie's or Lansdowne's or Matawa's; they are ours, and for what happens there, you'll have to get our agreements first.
The exploration in the area is huge, and those huge deposits will take a long time, for years to come. Industry will become wealthy. The federal government will have its taxes. These things happen. It is obvious that this is what will take place.
However, we would like to point out our situation in Marten Falls. You need to ask those of us who have lived there for who knows how long. Our own history is in the petroglyphs. They point out a history of 16,000 years in this area. We have been here a long time.
What do we want from the developments? That is the question. You have heard from Cliffs what they want to do with the chromite deposit. We say that these are not just big holes in the ground. These will be dug in the muskeg, in our wetland sponge area, not in the highlands and grasslands, as in Kimberley, South Africa, where the Big Hole is. This will be on top of the water, on top of the sponge.
We understand that the Cliffs company wants to make a road or a railroad on the north-south corridor to connect to Nakina. We understand that electricity will be supplied by fuel oil. Using fuel oil to generate electricity is not great and adds to the issue of environmental concerns.
We heard Noront's presentation today. They want to develop a nickel deposit on the ground and transport this as slurry through an underground pipeline through thousands of freshwater lakes.
They want to build an access road to Webequie to be taken west, I assume, to Pickle Lake.
We said that it doesn't do justice to these projects to simply call them “mines”. They are not just tools in the ground where the proponents can simply scoop up minerals and take them away. Getting the ore from the ground will require people, power, processing facilities, and hundred of kilometres of roads to be built in our territory, crossing at least three major rivers, hundreds of streams, sensitive boreal forests, and wetlands. Also, they want to cross two riverway parks.
From everything we have heard here, we know that government wants to expedite the approval of these developments and will likely subsidize their construction, but again I ask, what about us? We know these developments will forever change our community and our way of life. We know that whatever happens at the mines has the potential to spread hundreds of kilometres through the rivers and wetlands.
We know that if this doesn't get done right, and if there isn't any proper attention given to the environment and the needs of our people when decisions are being made, we will end up with either disaster or disappointment. This is the story of development in the north, and it is a story that needs to change.
From our perspective, we need a thorough process to be applied to the study of these proposed developments, and we need to be involved in the decisions that are made. No one can represent our views or decide what is best for us. Only we can do that.
This is why we have been proposing a joint panel review. We first asked for this process to be used back in May 2011, but the companies and the federal government have decided that they will use a comprehensive study process. This type of process will not work for our people. It is conducted entirely on paper, does not provide for hearings, and is ultimately conducted by consultants and bureaucrats who have no knowledge of our community or any connection to it.
Most of our elders do not speak English, and for many of us English is not our first language. We do not have the technical capacity in our community to read the technical reports or to set out our concerns in writing so that the consultants and bureaucrats will fully appreciate them.
Even the proponents, Cliffs and Noront, have recognized that there must be hearings with translation in order for our people to fully and meaningfully participate in the environmental assessment. Canada has not changed course. It has offered us $28,200 to participate in the Cliffs review, as though a little bit of money will solve these problems, but how can we participate in a process that we know, and they know, is flawed?
It is insulting for Canada to offer us only a tiny fraction of what we realistically require to meaningfully consider and address the significant issues that these multi-billion dollar developments pose for our community.
This is why we asked the Minister of the Environment for Canada to negotiate an agreement with us on the terms of a joint review panel environmental assessment. This is why we are in court today: to stop what we consider to be a sham of an environmental assessment. We want a negotiated process in which we are full partners in setting the terms for the review and in the design of a process that meets our needs, and we want to be full participants in making decisions after it's complete.
Our inherent right is with the lands and waters and in the animals, fish, and fowl that sustain us. We did not give up those rights when the treaty was signed. In fact, they were affirmed.
The commissioners negotiated the treaty and said in their own reports that when the Indians were assured their way of life would not be disturbed, they signed. That's in the Treaty 9 document. We need to know whether our way of life will be disturbed by the proposed big holes in the muskeg, by the tailings, the slurry, the access roads, the fuel oil generation, and all of the other things that these mines represent.
Canada has a constitutional obligation to answer this question and to make decisions in accordance with the treaty and with our constitutionally protected rights. We understand all too well that leaving such decisions to ministerial discretion can result in disaster. We only need to consider the situation now in Alberta, the poisoning of the Athabaska River by the tar sands tailings, and the circumstances of the aboriginal communities in that region. We don't want that situation repeated here.
There is no way to quantify the billions and billions of dollars that companies have taken out of the ground in Canada and elsewhere around the world, while natives continue to suffer because few of these benefits come back to us. Things that you take for granted—clean water, sewers, houses without mould, schools that educate instead of assimilate, good jobs for your children in your own communities—are things that are still beyond our reach.
Will we have imperialism, meaning you take the wealth and leave the natives barefoot, or will we have development? I'm referring to that big hole in South Africa, from where Cecil Rhodes and the De Beers brothers took three tons of diamonds, and now Zimbabwe is dying of AIDS without any modern medical facilities to fight their disease. That's the imperialism I'm talking about.
If development does occur, we question whether development would damage our lands, air, waters, and wildlife, and we definitely oppose development that would leave us destitute. Nothing lasts forever, and these mines are but a moment in time, even if they last for a century. When they end, we will need our lands to continue the way of life that has sustained us.
Development has to occur in a way that Marten Falls First Nation can accept, and this means having a final say in whether and how it happens. We share a responsibility with Canada under our treaty to make sure that development in the Ring of Fire is sustainable and environmentally sound.
Make no mistake: either we will be part of the decision-making for these developments or there will be no development.