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Community comes together for Turtle Prayer and Feast Ceremony Gathering in Serpent River First Nation

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From left: Grandmother Isabelle Meawasige, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, and Rhonda Kirby, in attendance of the Turtle Prayer and Feast Ceremony and Gathering in Serpent River First Nation on January 27.

By Leslie Knibbs

SERPENT RIVER FIRST NATION — Despite a severe winter storm, about 60 people attended the Turtle Prayer and Feast Ceremony and Gathering in Serpent River First Nation (SRFN) on Jan. 27 at the Lifestyles Center.  Concerned people from SRFN and Mississauga #8 First Nation attended the event to research and share information on the proposed quarry in the North Shore Township near Algoma Mills.  The event was hosted by the Grandmothers’ Council.

The proposed quarry will be one of the largest in the province if it goes through. According to Grandmother Rhonda Kirby, one of the original protesters of the quarry’s construction, the quarry will have a damaging impact on the habitat of endangered species such as the Blanding Turtles, as well as the Serpent River watershed. The quarry is located on Treaty lands. Preservation and protection of the unspoiled environment just north of Lake Lauzon is of extreme importance to local First Nations as well as local residents in the North Shore area.

Based on a study submitted by Tulloch Engineering in 2019, it was determined that there were issues regarding the construction and operation of the quarry.

Environmental Issues 

– Complex water management issues: fluctuating water levels due to quarry operation would adversely impact local wetlands and other water systems

– Five (5) Species at Risk: Blanding’s Turtle, Snapping Turtle, Painted Turtle, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and Myotis Bat

– Loss/damage of natural habitats (Provincially Significant Wetlands, with other wetlands in proximity; Moose Aquatic Feeding Areas)

– Noise: impact upon wildlife (noise from operations would frighten wildlife from natural habitats)

– Air/water quality (chemicals): contaminated water from explosives (apparently not using ANFO; using an unspecified emulsion explosive, but no details provided); contamination of watersheds due to dust from chemicals [ammonia, Sulphur, metals; radioisotopes (Radium and Uranium, Crystalline silica dust (airborne carcinogen)]

– Complex water management issues: large-scale quarry operations would require pumping of water for the lifetime of the quarry (120+ years) – fluctuating water levels due to quarry operation would adversely impact local wetlands and other water systems, threaten wildlife populations

– Unrealistic and unprecedented rehabilitation plan: Final rehabilitation plan to be two human-made lakes. Water taken from other sources (Hastie Lake, Long Lake, Lake Lauzon, Lake Huron) to artificially fill these pits, at 100 gallons/minute, will take over 75 years. *Water volume required to fill these pits is estimated at 27 billion, 500 million litres of water. 

Truck Traffic/Safety:

Access to the proposed quarry to be gained via Pronto Road, off Highway 17, which provides access to rural residential homes, seasonal cottages, and a municipal boat launch. The haul road 600+ meters of Pronto Rd., then a new access road to be constructed north of the project site. Some of the concerns regarding the access road are as follows:

– Disturbance of Pronto Rd., which was constructed using radioactive materials from the old Pronto Mine site; the proximity of the road to Pronto Mine tailings

– Increased heavy truck traffic entering and exiting Hwy. 17.

There has been concern about the proposed quarry since 2011 when a southern Ontario company began frequenting the area of what is now the proposed quarry site. Darien Aggregates, Inc. began frequenting Pronto Rd. in the Township of the North Shore. Blasting began with the removal and testing of aggregate samples from a site location 3.5 km north of Hwy. 17. They were interested in Nipissing Diabase, or trap rock, an aggregate that they already purchased at Trap Rock in Bruce Mines. While this aggregate is available elsewhere, under Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, there is “no need to show need.”

“Aggregate companies are not required to demonstrate a need for their product despite the huge environmental impacts of these operations,” according to Kirby.

Several speakers addressed those attending the Gathering including local Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes.  Hughes told those gathered that she had expressed concerns over the proposed quarry in 2019 to the Minister of the Environment and would be reaching out to him again this year advising him on the important habitat matter and information gathered given the results of research done.

She also will be advising the environment minister and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations that “Indigenous peoples are opposing the development of this quarry and raising serious concern that their legal and constitutional rights on duty to consult has not been respected.”

Further to this, she added, “[I] will be re-enforcing that the government cannot forgo its responsibilities when it comes to the duty to consult and must also protect species at risk, like the Blanding Turtle, which the Ontario Government’s action in approving the quarry clearly demonstrates that they are not interested in protecting this sensitive and critical Blanding’s Turtle habitat and that they must intervene under the Species at Risk Act.”

Jenifer Brousseau, a member of SRFN, attended the meeting. Brousseau, host of Wild Archaeology on APTN, wrote a detailed letter to local Algoma—Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha outlining her concerns with the proposed quarry development.

“Considering the future for seven generations is Anishinabek law. In keeping with this belief, there is a grave concern with the location of this proposed quarry and the many variables at play. These Provincially Significant Wetlands situated at the proposed quarry location, are both a ceremonial site and critical habitat for many species at risk, both plants and animals. The location is home to one of the densest documented populations of Blanding’s Turtles in the province, and possibly Canada. Blanding’s Turtles are a threatened species in Ontario and fall under the Endangered Species Act.”

In her letter to Mantha, Brousseau made it clear the three First Nations, SRFN, Sagamok Anishnawbek, and Mississauga #8 First Nation, are deeply concerned with the lack of honourable negotiations with their communities.

“We wish to remind you that the government has the commitment to honour the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to fulfill its responsibility to engage with communities prior to any decisions made that may impact our traditional treaty lands and waters. Meeting only with select members does not constitute community engagement, and thus, is unethical and does not adhere to treaty law. This duty arises as part of the process of honourable negotiation.”

The meeting in SRFN helped inform and initiate continuing discussion about the proposed quarry in Algoma Mills on treaty land and the adverse effects on the habitat, as well as the Serpent River Watershed.  Since the application was submitted for rezoning, the North Shore Township’s municipal council agreed to rezone the 285 acres of land formerly recognized as ‘Restricted Open Space,’ to Mineral Extraction by a narrow 3-2 vote. The land also lies within the boundaries of the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850.

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