Plants & Animals


  • Environmental planning for industrial development in the Ring of Fire is based on various provincial and federal policies and legislation
  • Policy and legislation affecting northern Ontario does not address the cumulative effects of land use and climate change
  • The land is “managed” by different provincial ministries with different mandates
  • Design and governance of environmental planning and processes, including decision-making, marginalizes First Nations and their knowledge systems

A recent report on integrated natural resource management argues strongly for the integration of all development at appropriate scales. This approach requires the development and use of cumulative effects science, which is most generally defined as the analysis of how multiple kinds of stressors or effects interact to alter the environment and the people that depend upon it.  

In the Ring of Fire region, there have been few studies addressing cumulative effects. As a result, much of the concern about individual project development in region stems from the inability of governments, proponents, and First Nations to address cumulative effects of multiple projects including the growth-inducing and region-opening impacts of roads and mines on the species, ecosystems, and ecosystem services in the Ring of Fire.

Ecological Atlas

Photos by Cheryl Chetkiewicz / WCS Canada

Finally, none of the provincial and federal legislation or policy processes have included First Nations directly or obtained their free, prior and informed consent. As such First Nations continue to find themselves reacting to individual development proposals, proponents, and government-led processes across their homelands.

This is a state of affairs that has led to delays and conflicts (e.g., Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug vs. Platinex) as First Nations continue to demand to be included in joint planning and decision-making based on jurisdiction and rights rather than consulted on the potential benefits and impacts of individual projects or government legislation.  

Overall, environmental planning processes remain inadequate for considering the past, current, and future cumulative impacts (positive and negative) of land use and climate change on species, ecosystems, and the social and economic prosperity of First Nations affected by the Ring of Fire. 

Brook Trout

Proposed infrastructure (Map 1) and current infrastructure (Map 2) in the Ring of Fire (click the arrows to see both maps). Meg Southee/WCS Canada (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Land Use Planning in the Far North

Key Ontario policy relevant to land use planning in the Ring of Fire region includes the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario (GPNO) (2011), the Draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario (2020), and an ongoing review of Ontario’s Energy Planning Framework after revoking Ontario Regulation 355/17. None of these policies have been subject to a strategic impact assessment and none seem to be actually guiding land use planning in the region. 

For example, the GPNO vision for northern Ontario is “a skilled, educated, healthy and prosperous population that is supported by world-class resources, leading edge technology and modern infrastructure. Communities are connected to each other and the world, offering dynamic and welcoming environments that are attractive to newcomers.” 

The previous government’s LTEP (2011) prioritized partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities, including Moose Cree First Nation and prioritized new transmission to service the “mining load” out of Pickle Lake and support connections to remote First Nations communities. 

In 2010, the Government of Ontario passed the Far North Act, 2010 to implement its commitment to protect at least 50% of the region from development, address climate commitments, and establish a community-based land use planning approach with interested First Nations. The Act had four objectives for land use planning including: 1) a significant role for First Nations in the planning; 2) the protection of areas of cultural value and ecological systems including at least 225,000 square kilometres in an interconnected network of protected areas designated in community based land use plans; 3) maintenance of biological diversity, ecological processes, and ecological functions, including the storage and sequestration of carbon; and, 4) enable sustainable economic development that benefits First Nations.

Plans were expected to identify resource development opportunities.

For example, any areas where there is known interest in new mines and industrial development projects would be zoned appropriately. Plans were also the place to identify areas for protection including efforts to fight climate change through the protection of carbon in the region (e.g., peatlands). 

Neither the process of developing the legislation, including minimal consultation on the process, nor the final wording of the law had First Nations support and was also condemned by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). However, community-based land-use planning proceeded with 15 First Nation communities developing either approved plans, draft plans, or terms of reference with Ontario. 

The Far North Land Use Strategy that was mandated under the Act to address broader issues such as cultural heritage, biological diversity, freshwater, cumulative effects, and climate change among others was never finalized or released to the public. 

In 2019, the Government of Ontario proposed to repeal the Act to reduce “red tape” and increase “business certainty” in the Ring of Fire. This process has still not been finalized but is supported by NAN and others. 

Impact Assessment in the Far North

Infrastructure, mining and energy projects have featured prominently in Ontario’s historical and current vision for economic growth and prosperity in northern Ontario. These projects impact the species, ecosystems, and ecosystem services in the region in direct, indirect, and cumulative ways. They also create considerable risks and opportunities for First Nations across Treaty No. 9 on whose homelands the projects are proposed.  

Designated projects may be subject to impact assessment (IA) under the federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) and/or Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). Examples in northern Ontario include the De Beers Canada Inc. Victor Diamond Mine, the Musselwhite Mine, the Wataynikaneyap Project, and current road proposals, including Webequie Supply Road Project, Marten Falls Community Access Road Project, and Northern Road Link Project. Both Cliff’s Chromite Project and Noront’s Eagle’s Nest Multi-Metal Mine Project federal IA processes were terminated in 2013 and 2018, respectively.  

However, practice has shown that project-based IA, particularly for non-renewable industries such as mining, are limited in their ability to address regional and broader spatial and temporal scale issues including sustainability, Aboriginal and treaty rights, and cumulative effects.

Brook Trout

Photo by Jenni McDermid / WCS Canada

Under the federal Impact Assessment Act, three groups (WCS Canada, Aroland First Nation, and Osgoode Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic) formally requested a regional assessment for the Ring of Fire given ongoing project-level impact assessments for multiple road projects in the region. These requests were approved in February 2020. 

In December 2021, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada released a draft Agreement for a Regional Assessment for the Ring of Fire area. 

Indigenous-Led Planning and Conservation

As part of the Canada’s Pathway to Target 1, the Indigenous Circle of Experts, led a process across Canada with Indigenous Peoples to consider Indigenous-led protection. The result is the report, We Rise Together. ICE advances Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) as one pathway forward for Canada to meet its conservation area targets through a process of reconciliation that elevates Indigenous Knowledge Systems, legal traditions and customary and cultural practices for keeping the land and taking care of the environment and the people who depend upon it. They also highlight the historical and ongoing abuses tied to the dominant narrative of protected areas and parks in Canada. 

IPCAs are lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an IPCA. IPCAs vary in terms of their governance and management objectives. However, they have 3 essential elements: 1) IPCAs are Indigenous-led; 2) they represent a long-term commitment to conservation or similar Indigenous concept; and, 3) they elevate and support Indigenous rights and responsibilities. Briefly: 

IPCAs are Indigenous-led approaches to protecting the land meaning Indigenous communities and governments determine the objectives, boundaries, management plans and governance structures for IPCAs. A range of partnerships have emerged to support these acts of self-determination, including with Crown governments, environmental NGOs, foundations, or others. IPCAs are Indigenous-led conservation initiatives that reflect the objectives and needs of their respective nations or governments.  

IPCAs represent a long-term commitment to conservation given Indigenous Peoples take a multi-generational view of stewarding their homelands and territories. An IPCA represents a long-term commitment to keep and protect the lands and water for future generations. 

IPCAs  elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities. Indigenous Peoples have long-standing physical and cultural relationships and uses associated with the lands and waters within their respective territories. These relationships have always included the right to benefit from the natural world and the reciprocal responsibility to care for and respect the land and water, consistent with natural and Indigenous law, for future generations.

Community meeting to learn more about mining.

Photo by Cheryl Chetkiewicz / WCS Canada

The above film from the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI) is a great place to learn more about IPCAs. A number of IPCAs are emerging in Canada, including the Fawn River Indigenous Protected Area and the First Nation Protected Area in the North French River in northern Ontario.

IPCAs are part of a global effort that recognizes the diversity of ways in which Indigenous Peoples take care of their territories. 

IPCAs are part of a much broader effort supporting Indigenous-led governance  together with increasing recognition by scientists, governments, and others about the relationships between Indigenous governance, Indigenous territories, and biodiversity conservation that is meaningful, effective and socially just.