Pushing for Better: Confronting Conflict, Unsustainability & Colonialism through Sustainability Assessment and Regional Assessment in the Ring of Fire
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The Ring of Fire is a mineral resource-rich area of approximately 5,120 km2 located in the James Bay Lowlands region of Northern Ontario, about 500 kilometers northeast of Thunder Bay. The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines generously estimates the Ring of Fire to contain $60 billion worth of minerals. The Ontario government and industry envision that the Ring of Fire could be a region with multi-generational mining activity. However, the area has no historical or current industrial activity, and no road or rail access. Also, mining proposals in this resource rich, inaccessible and ecologically sensitive area have generated significant controversy and conflict because the potential for wealth generation is accompanied by the potential for significant and possibly serious net negative lasting cumulative effects and poorly distributed benefits and risks, particularly for First Nations communities, including Eabametoong First Nation. One major method of anticipating and planning for the effects of industrial development is environmental assessment. However, my research finds that traditional assessment methods are woefully inadequate for considering the potential regional impacts of the Ring of Fire on the land, waters and communities. Conventional assessment is insufficient to identify and address cumulative effects, and it does not provide an adequate base for determining whether proposed developments are likely contribute to lasting well-being and sustainability. These inadequacies are particularly challenging for the most vulnerable communities, where these deficiencies threaten to perpetuate long standing colonialism and conflict. The findings suggest that Canadian resource development processes at large would be considerably assisted if anticipatory assessment and decision making focused on the actual (in this case regional) scale of the potential effects, examined the potential for lasting overall gains, and integrated fair process with equitable relationships and substantive consideration of context-dependent sustainability. In this research, assessment criteria were developed in collaboration with Eabametoong First Nation for application in the Ring of Fire utilizing generic sustainability criteria, existing academic data and Eabametoong’s own perspectives. Central to the resulting assessment framework is the need to foster consent, respect indigenous rights and utilize indigenous knowledge. My findings indicate that much of the mainstream discussion on the Ring of Fire has framed the key debates as economy versus the environment, and have situated the current project-centred environmental assessment processes as a venue for battles over these priorities. A broader and more positive approach, using regional strategic assessments to find pathways to lasting overall benefits for the Ring of Fire communities and area, is not yet on the agenda. This research found that a more comprehensive package that utilizes assessment not simply as a box check, but as a means to enhance the lives of Eabametoong First Nations and other communities, would better ensure that development in the region contributes to a sustainable future.
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Cole Atlin (2019). Pushing for Better: Confronting Conflict, Unsustainability & Colonialism through Sustainability Assessment and Regional Assessment in the Ring of Fire. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/14509
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