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Mining claims jump in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire as EV battery interest grows

December 12, 2023

More than 31,000 mining claims are now registered in the area, says advocacy group 

Sarah Law · CBC News · 

A person stands and speaks into a microphone. A crowd of people stand behind him, holding a large flag.
Chief Chris Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation speaks with other nations in the First Nations Land Defence Alliance during a rally against mining proposals on their land in Toronto this past July. Chief Moonias says his community is receiving an overwhelming number of notices about mining claims and doesn’t have the capacity to respond to every one of them. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC News: Posted: Dec 07, 2023 3:47 PM EST | Last Updated: December 12

Mining claims staked in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire area have risen by 30 per cent since last year, according to provincial data analyzed by the Wildlands League.

The crescent-shaped mineral deposit in the James Bay lowlands has been eyed as a critical source for Ontario’s burgeoning electric vehicle battery industry for years.

But surrounding First Nations say there hasn’t been proper consultation about mining projects on their territories. A number of rallies have been held at Queen’s Park in Toronto this year by members of the First Nations Land Defence Alliance, calling out the province’s free-entry mining system and demanding a meeting with Premier Doug Ford.

“Although he says he’s very accessible to First Nations, he’s not accessible to me,” said Chief Chris Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation.

Non-profit conservation group the Wildlands League put out a statement about the sudden surge of mining claims around the Ring of Fire based on data from Geology Ontario.

Their numbers suggest there are more than 31,000 registered claims covering more than 626,000 hectares, compared to more than 24,000 claims last year. The area covers the equivalent of nearly 10 times the size of the City of Toronto, or double the Greater Sudbury area, the group says.

More than half the claims are held by Juno Corp., covering more than 333,000 hectares of land, the data shows. All mining claims registered in Ontario can be viewed on an online map. 

Anna Baggio, conservation director of the Wildlands League, says they produce a map of new mining claims across the province each year to keep track of the trends. She says she gasped when she saw this year’s numbers, which the conservation group says is the highest number of claims staked in the last six years.

“It’s massive,” Baggio said. “These are globally-significant peatlands and watersheds, and habitat for threatened wildlife and endangered and threatened species.”

CBC News reached out to Minister of Mines George Pirie for comment. Spokesperson Dylan Moore provided an emailed statement on Monday, Dec. 11, on Pirie’s behalf.

“Ontario is building a corridor to prosperity that will unlock the critical minerals in the Ring of Fire and connect First Nations to the highway network. There is tremendous interest in the critical mineral potential in the Ring of Fire region to fuel the electric vehicle revolution. This has led to more online claim staking to acquire mineral rights, but this staking has no physical impact on the land.

“The exploration work that is taking place has a very small environmental footprint and any new mine that is discovered would be subject to Ontario’s world-class environmental standards and the Crown’s duty to consult,” the statement says.

Communities overwhelmed with claims

Now that prospectors can pay a fee to stake a claim online in Ontario, Baggio said it’s made it much easier for companies to rack up claims from anywhere in the world — and they don’t have to consult with communities ahead of time.

“The reason why it’s a concern is because we don’t have a structure in place that tells companies: ‘Don’t go here, go there.’ And so communities are left scrambling; they find out that it could be an important watershed, it could be a grave site, it could be habitat for endangered species,” Baggio said.

Thousands protest mining exploration on Indigenous land in Ontario

WATCH | Thousands join First Nations land defence protest: , 3 months ago, Duration 2:01

Thousands of Indigenous people people gathered at the Ontario Legislature to demand a face-to-face meeting with Premier Doug Ford. They say the province has allowed thousands of mining applications without their knowledge or consent.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Chief Moonias said his community is receiving an overwhelming number of emailed notices about new claims being staked on their homelands, “and we just don’t have the capacity to look over each and every one of them.”

Meanwhile, Neskantaga is dealing with a series of other crises, from mental health and addictions to housing and Canada’s longest boil water advisory, which has been in place for 28 years. “We are busy making sure that our nation members are being taken care of and we can’t be worrying about hundreds of notices that we get for mining claims,” he said.

Another barrier is the technical language used in mining claim notices that cannot be translated into their language, Chief Moonias said. “How do we get an elder to understand what some of those words mean … even myself that doesn’t know the technical terminology, to understand what things are happening, what the impact will be or what the benefits will be?”

More responsible mining

The Wildlands League is calling for a more thoughtful approach to mining that considers environmentally-sensitive areas and the rights of First Nations communities, before companies can stake claims, Baggio said. “Yes, society will need critical minerals, but there has to be an approach where we look at it and say where can we get these critical minerals that won’t be harming our environment?” she asked.

She wants to see the province explore places where there is already existing infrastructure for mining, and approval from communities, before it allows exploration on untouched lands. This could mean going back to mines that have already been opened, brownfield areas, and extracting minerals from tailings.

Areas to avoid would be the Hudson Bay lowlands, areas where First Nations have identified grave sites, and caribou habitats, she said.

As for Chief Moonias, he says he’s not opposed to mining, “just that we want to be a part of it.”

According to both Chief Moonias and Chief Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows First Nation, the First Nations Land Defence Alliance is growing, and the group plans to continue pushing back against mining claims staked without First Nations’ involvement. “We want to be part of the decision-making process,” Chief Moonias said. “We will continue to oppose [claims] without our free, prior informed consent.”

  • Due to a technical error, a previous version of this story was published without a statement from the Ministry of Mines. The story has since been updated. Dec 12, 2023 1:57 PM ET

Sarah Law, Reporter

Sarah Law is a CBC News reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont., and has also worked for newspapers and online publications elsewhere in the province. Have a story tip? You can reach her at