Attawapiskat | First Nations | In the News | Neskantaga
‘Critical’ Minerals and the Politics of Refusal

Originally published in Toxic News

April 30, 2021

A quiet struggle has been playing out in Ontario’s far north as a wave of Indigenous cultural and political resurgence collides with a renewed push to extend the extractive frontier into the vast, swampy boreal forest. Centered around the much-hyped “Ring of Fire” mineral deposits and the resistance of remote Anishinaabe and Anishini communities that depend on the cultural and ecological integrity of the Attawapiskat river watershed, the stakes in this struggle are high. The social, political, and ecological changes that will come with the extraction of minerals in the Ring of Fire are irreversible, and the resources in contention include so-called “critical minerals” — those that have been deemed necessary for the very transition from fossil fuels that climate justice demands.

In following this struggle over the past five years, I have come to understand it as a microcosm for how the contemporary settler state primes an extractive frontier, even into the so-called ‘post-extractive’ moment.

The “Ring of Fire” is a massive, crescent-shaped deposit of minerals, including nickel, copper, zinc, gold, and mostly notably chromite in the far north of Ontario, in central Canada (see map). The minerals are said to lie close to the Earth’s surface in this vast expanse of soggy muskeg and peat bogs dotted with black spruce, jack pine and white birch. The region is home to several iconic boreal creatures such as caribou, lake sturgeon and wolverines; it is said to be perhaps the largest intact boreal forest remaining in the world, a globally significant wetland, and a massive carbon storehouse. It is, most importantly, a landscape that has sustained the lifeways of Anishinaabe and Anishini peoples since time immemorial.

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