First Nation concerns dominate Ring of Fire forum.

Author:McKinley, Karen

The Ring of Fire has been touted as a massive economic windfall for the province and the country. But there are serious questions over how it will benefit Indigenous people and community development.

A standing room-only crowd packed a dining room at Science North in Sudbury on April 24 to hear a panel discussion on the Ring of Fire headed by Noront Resources president-CEO Alan Coutts, Cementation president Roy Slack, and FedNor director general Aime Dimatteo.

While there were many questions from the audience about roads, ecology, mine structure and economics, the impact to Indigenous communities, employment opportunities and even education and substance addiction garnered the most attention.

One audience member pointed out that half the population of one of the northwest communities had substance abuse problems, and many other communities are impoverished, causing a power imbalance with treaties not being met.

Dimatteo said they are addressing this by empowering the communities so they can lead in decision-making.

The federal government, he said, has given more than $124 million for more than 200 projects to build capacity.

However, he said, they are lacking human resources.

"We are providing the funding to build capacity so they can hire their own people, train their own people, so when decision time comes, you can make an informed decision."

Coutts said Noront and the other partners knew First Nation input was critical, so they provided funding and had the communities tell them where to build infrastructure like roads and broadband.

The same will be done with electrification and other project components.

As well, the communities have community leaders at the executive level to make decisions over what would be best for their people.

"As a company, we are not government. They have obligations and we have to respect that," Coutts said. "We try to get perspective from those individuals as part of our core management for both our team and how we do things as a company."

Slack said in their experience with mining projects, like Diavik in the Northwest Territories, the challenge is getting people to go from the skilled trades into management and executive positions. Part of the problem is education.

"Some of the high schooling some of our partners get doesn't qualify them for some of the engineering schools," he said.

"We've begun to talk to some of the schools about the criteria, and what are some of the things we need if you are going to be...

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