All Party Consent for Ring of Fire Mining Shows Tragic Decline in Ontario Political Culture

By Dr John Bacher and Danny Beaton, Mohawk of the Turtle Clan.

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska.

Contemptuously, in the recent federal election there was an obscene amount of all party support to one of the most ecocidal threats to our planet. That threatened area is the Hudson Bay Lowlands, whose vast peat bogs perform a role more vital than ever before. It serves as a refrigerator for our planet which is under attack by anthropogenic climate change. These lowlands are the largest contiguous tract remaining of temperate wetlands on our sacred Mother Earth.

There are few areas on our planet which are as well protected from roads and other forms of industrial degradation as the Hudson Bay lowlands. Its survival depends on the outcome of a federally imposed environmental review of roads needed to support a mining development scheme known as the Ring of Fire.

The Ring of Fire is situated in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Territory, a Territory that signed the 1905 Treaty to share the resources in the Treaty 9 Territory. There has been insufficient and minimal consultation with the NAN Leaders and community members from government officials on future plans in the region. Resources, such as Nickel, are already being liquidated in the region by mining companies.

Roads for damming the poorly understood wetlands of this region could, as they have done in connection with similar Spruce forested bogs in the Alberta tar sands, spark massive forest fires. This threatens to turn the carbon sink of the James Bay section of the lowlands, which annually absorb 15 megatons of carbon, into a net emitter from forest fires.

For our political leaders to support creating roads in the James Bay Lowlands that would threaten to wreck our province’s refrigerator, when much of the world faces wildfires and drought, is criminal stupidity. The negative impact on climate change could override future green actions, such as electric cars and roof gardens.

The Hudson Bay Lowlands contain as much water as the entire Great Lakes. They also serve as a refuge for all the species that were found there after the end of the Pleistocene extinctions 6,000 years ago. Two of the species that live here, the Woodland Caribou and the Wolverine, use it as a last stand after being driven out of other corners of Ontario.

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford is the most outspoken advocate of mining in the Ring of Fire, he simply expresses more loudly the views of all leaders of provincial parties. Various actions he has taken, such as the ending of the Fifty Million Tree Program (mercifully rescued by the federal government), reflect a decline in the political culture of Ontario. This can be traced to negative decisions that sparked little opposition, which began in the mid-1990s.

One of the terrible decisions made in the 1990s was the closure of all the provincial tree nurseries, founded through the work of a rescuer of the province from desertification, Edmund Zavitz. While the effectiveness of the environmental movement in the 1970s led to a ban on phosphates in detergents and saved Lake Erie as a result; its dead zone emerged again around the start of the 21st century. This was encouraged by the closure of tree planting stations which crippled efforts to afforest stream corridors flowing to Lake Erie.

One element of Ontario’s tree planting program was the Ontario Tree Seed Plant, created by Zavitz in 1921 and shut down by Ford in 2020. It may soon become used as a nursery for cannabis cultivation. This dismal fate reflects how Ontario’s political culture has gone to pot.

When the Polar Bear Provincial Park was created by Premier John Robarts in 1970, Ontario’s environmental protection movement was at its peak of influence. Although Polar Bear Provincial Park was originally created to protect Polar Bears, it also serves to keep mines out of the Hudson Bay Wetlands. It protects 23,552 square kilometers of the world's third largest wetland.

A dark sign for Ontario took place in 1995, when suddenly on the eve of calling a provincial election, Ontario Premier Bob Rae backed down on carefully developed plans which were agreed upon by impacted Cree communities to triple the size of Polar Bear Provincial Park. The expanded park would have prohibited mining in the area, which later, after the discovery of Chromite, became identified as the Ring of Fire. A friend of mine, Sandy Gage, a Burlington eco-justice activist who was then employed by the Ontario Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature), was instrumental in developing this agreement.

After killing plans to expand Polar Bear Provincial Park, Rae, who had earlier closed most of the province’s tree nurseries (the remainder were shut down by his successor Mike Harris), emerged as a leading consultant and lobbyist to facilitate mining development in the Ring of Fire region. At the same time, he greatly influenced policy in both the Liberal and New Democratic parties, explained to me as by “working the phones.”

A few years before becoming Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Rae gave a talk on YouTube about his expectations for the Ring of Fire. He expressed a hope that in the future its environmental impact would be seen as much more positive than the nickel mining development around Sudbury, which he compared it to.

In a political culture which was shaped by concern for the Earth, Rae’s pontifications would have set in motion a storm of protest. The lands of the Hudson Bay Lowlands are so critical today since they are one of the last large areas of the planet that have not been altered by human industrialized machinations since the end of the Pleistocene. There should be no schemes for new Sudbury cities or, as Premier Ford put it, development on the scale of the Alberta Tar Sands, in one of the biggest, wildest areas of our Earth. Voters need to get this message and tell our politicians to wake up to the realities of what Ontario needs to do in an age shaped by the folly of human degradation of our planet.

From Danny Beaton:

Our old elders knew the healing power of the forests. They said the rivers, lakes, streams and oceans were Mother Earth’s blood from her body, so that all creation would drink the same blood and quench our thirst. We were told all life had a right to live in harmony, that man was no better than the wolf or bear or beaver — that all life was equal in the eyes of our Great Creator. That Great Creator made all of Creation equal in his own eyes.

Before the arrival of our white brothers, Indigenous people learned to walk in a sacred manner and joined together to live in respect. They made rules to follow in one with natural life and creation. Later they joined their nations and tribes together to follow the Great Law of Peace and they used the concept of what they called The Good Mind.

For many years life began to fall apart in their territories from the inventions that their white brothers brought to trade with them. These inventions have grown and grown to the point now that North America is becoming a big dump site and our Sacred Great Lakes and rivers are too polluted to drink or swim in anymore. In fact, Canada and the USA are now experiencing the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Everything that was once in Mother Earth is now trapped in the air and sky and lower atmosphere, called Global Warming or Climate Change.

Because of all of the negative inventions we human beings have to think: “Are we going to keep on this path of negativity and destruction that can only lead to death and disease? We need a society united and moving in a creative, positive manner, so that life can feel the energy and we can work toward reforesting and healing Mother Earth.” There are still good people here who can do a lot of good with the short time to slow destruction down. But if we keep saying this is serious and no one listens or takes action, then we need to prepare for consequences of greed and dysfunction from the ones in power.

In the old days, life was pure and clean like some places up North. But because some men want to continue to destroy Mother Earth, we environmentalists have to keep speaking out and working with Indigenous leaders who care for justice and the natural world.

Everything is alive and moving, but society must wake up to our Sacred Life and all life that is drinking the same water as humans and living peacefully in their sacred homes, the Northern Woodlands, the home of the four-legged, the winged ones, insects and fish life. We should be stronger people with many Good Minds thinking of healing and justice. But Mother Earth is still suffering.

Thank you for listening. Because our elders are now on the other side, they passed on what they learned from their elders for us young ones to continue to protect Mother Earth from abuse.

Photo Credit: Ring of Fire, Attawapiskat River Northern Ontario by Danny Beaton, 2016.

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