My friends have always been amazed at the fact that I know the words to so many old country tunes. Well, I was brought up listening day and night to my parents’ collection of country-music records and for better or worse they are etched in my memory banks forever. One tune in particular, “Ring of Fire”, seems to have more meaning than most these days.
Of course, the “Ring of Fire” I am referring to has to do with the huge exploration and development of resources currently going on about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. This is a huge chunk of virgin wilderness that has been used traditionally by First Nations in that area. Right now, it seems as though just about everybody in the mining industry has some claim to a part of this promising bit of wilderness.
You might think that we could just take our time to develop the last remaining wilderness in this province but rabid industrial development knows no boundaries and has no respect for timing. If you look at the historical development of resources throughout the world you quickly learn that when there is something valuable on or in the land it is sought after and harvested with little attention to the people, animals and natural life that has existed there for centuries. That is just a fact of business.
In the case of the “Ring of Fire”, we have the opportunity to do things differently. We have the chance to develop this huge area of resource rich land in a way that benefits the First Nations who have traditional ties to this place. We can also choose to do so in a cooperative manner that would make sure we protect the land and its animals as much as possible so that the environment is not devastated by our development of the resources. At the same time we have the ability to develop all the resources so that First Nations and industry can all benefit and proceed in a harmonious way. Those opportunities are there but it is up to our Native and non-Native leaders to figure out how to make it happen in a positive way.
It makes no sense to go to war and start huge conflicts merely for the almighty dollar in developing these pristine traditional lands. Nobody would really win in this scenario. However, make no mistake about it no matter what government is in place or how much money or power industry has, if fair deals are not made with the First Nations of the “Ring of Fire” nothing will ever be developed in this area. There will be a conflict that we will all have to endure for decades and we will waste a lot of energy, time and good will in a pointless fight.
Industry and government have people who are very good with numbers so you would think that they will quickly figure out that it is far better for them to give up a piece of their pie to make sure that development happens in a good way and that First Nations benefit from the mining, forestry and hydro projects that are going to be happening in North Ontario.
The days of pushing First Nations around, ignoring them and taking advantage of them is over. Those days are gone. Most resource industry people understand that and many new initiatives all over the country are happening in a way that everyone is benefiting and good resource development projects are going ahead. However, there are still some neanderthals in the business world that are holding on to outdated and nasty racist and colonial ways of seeing things. Time to get rid of them because if you don’t, the projects they are in charge of will never move ahead.
People like Shawn Batise, Executive Director of Wabun Tribal Council, has been working with his chiefs for years in developing all types of agreements with resource development companies that benefit all parties involved. I have seen many great projects proceed in the Wabun lands that prove good things can happen when there is a will to work together. I also see developments in the “Ring of Fire” as with the newly developed office by Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development Mines and Forestry dedicated to making things happen in a positive way and helping the stakeholders work together. If things go well then the “Ring of Fire” will burn in a good way and offer us some light in this huge development. However, if we don’t want to work together remember the words to Johnny Cash’s song: “I fell in to a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames they got higher. And it burns, burns, burns the Ring of Fire, the Ring of Fire”.