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Communities

The region associated with the Ring of Fire is a homeland for 33 First Nation communities, with a population of approximately 40,000 people. 

First Nations have inherent and constitutionally protected rights to use the land, and these rights have been reaffirmed repeatedly in Canadian courts. As such, Canada and Ontario must follow established case law under Section 35 of the Canada Constitution Act, which requires governments to consult, and if appropriate, accommodate Indigenous Peoples regarding decisions that may adversely affect the land, fish, waters, wildlife and their Aboriginal or treaty rights. If governments (and proponents) do not consult adequately with First Nations or if they “take up” Indigenous lands in a way that damages the land, water, and wildlife, the government is in violation of these rights.

Fort Severn - Ecological Atlas

Webequie First Nation

Photo by Cheryl Chetkiewicz / WCS Canada

However, First Nations, including in Treaty No. 9, have been dealing with the extraction of resources from their lands, waters, and territories and homelands for decades, often with profound environmental and social impacts. While building relationships with First Nations for the purposes of Canada’s and Ontario’s economic and political interests has been ongoing since confederation, the “approval” of  the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, and Canada’s UNDRIP Act should change the relationships between governments, industry, and Indigenous Peoples.

UNDRIP identifies a number of important rights that are highly relevant in the Ring of Fire, including the right to self-determination (Article 3), and free, prior and informed consent regarding protection and development (Articles 29 and 32). While First Nations may be engaged and consulted on projects under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, this falls short of consent and inclusion in decision-making.

Finally, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada also identified the need for the direct involvement of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making as well as adequate resourcing of development and protection priorities (Actions 43-45). Where past exploitation has occurred, the Commission states that reparations are required.

Sunrise on the North French River

Photo by Connie O’Connor / WCS Canada

A community listening to a presentation on mining.

Photo by Cheryl Chetkiewicz / WCS Canada

Governance

Governance in northern Ontario refers to the ways that the lands, waters, and wildlife are defined (e.g., public, private, communal) and how they are managed (e.g., provincial, federal, municipal, Indigenous governments). Governance stems from worldviews about the role of humans and nature and the how these roles, responsibilities and rights are manifest. 

Until confederation in 1867 (and slightly after), Indigenous communities and governance systems placed high importance on informal agreements and oral histories. Rights are inherent, granted by the Creator, and tied to the land. These rights should not be infringed by any action without the consent of Indigenous Peoples.  

However since 1867, Indigenous land governance has had to been impacted by a different worldview, driven by capitalist economies. With the inclusion of Aboriginal and Treaty rights as outlined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, various decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada such as the Sparrow Case, the Van der Peet Case and the Delgamuukw Case among others have defined what these mean in the current context. 

In northern Ontario, the current governance over lands, waters, fish and wildlife, is a patchwork of federal and provincial legislation, policies, tenures, and authorities that are largely siloed, may be in conflict with one another in terms of social, ecological, and economic objectives, and have not received the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations across Treaty No. 9. These processes are dominated by a western worldview focused on individual rights, private property, capitalism, and relationships with the land and others. This worldviews informs Canada’s and Ontario’s laws, education, health, approach to nature, and each other. It differs in many fundamental ways from Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing, Indigenous Law and Natural Law

Treaty No. 9

In the Ring of Fire, First Nations relationships with the provincial and federal government is based on Treaty No. 9. However, the terms of Treaty No. 9 were finalized in advance by the Canadian and Ontario governments and presented to First Nation leaders as a done deal. First Nations across Treaty No. 9 have long argued that Treaty No. 9 is about sharing the land and not surrendering it.  

First Nation communities in and around the Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario and the boundary of Treaty No. 9. Meg Southee/WCS Canada (CC BY-SA 2.0)

First Nations

This page is under construction with our First Nations partners.

Attawapiskat

Fort Albany

Matawa Tribal Council

Marten Falls

Mushkegowuk Council

Life on the line

Facing down governments and industry, this First Nation makes a promise: There’ll be no development in the Ring of Fire without its consent

read more

Nibanimik

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Webequie

Weenusk

www.firstnation.ca/weenusk-peawanuck

Learn more about Community-Based Monitoring with Weenusk First Nation: https://youtu.be/_moYOT90Q1U

Chiefs of Ontario