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Ring of Fire development reaches milestone with new deal

With the PDAC conference nearing its end, Ontario's Minister of Mines George Pirie was joined by Chief Bruce Achneepineskum and Chief Cornelius Wabasse for a special announcement regarding future developments in the Ring of Fire region.

TORONTO — Things continue to heat-up in the Ring of Fire region.

George Pirie, the minister of mines, was joined by Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls, and Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation at this year’s Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Conference in Toronto on March 5.

They announced a Community Development Aid Agreement signed by all three parties to create infrastructure projects that could support future development opportunities in the Ring of Fire.

Minister Pirie emphasized the need for this new agreement, especially in providing further opportunities for Marten Falls and Webequie to participate in the regional economy and benefit from better access to the highway – referring to the deal as the next step towards “advanced economic reconciliation.”

“Our agreement . . . commits Ontario to supporting shovel-ready infrastructure projects to help each First Nation prepare for future economic development opportunities such as road construction and mining development.

“This lays the foundation for building the corridor to prosperity -- an all-season road network that would link Martin Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation to the highway network and the mining opportunities in the Ring of Fire,” Pirie said.

The aim is to invest in projects that meet the “specific needs” of each First Nation, he said.

Pirie specifically mentioned new health and training facilities, recreation centres, commercial buildings and labour force development programs as some of the projects that would be eligible for funding in Marten Falls and Webequie.

He said a major priority in the agreement is “working together” on everything from construction to ownership and governance, particularly while environmental assessments in the region are ongoing.

“This is about improving project timelines. We cannot wait for the (environmental assessments) to be completed before we start thinking about what the future will look like should the EAs be approved,” Pirie said.

Achneepineskum echoed Pirie’s remarks when he said the future is what is at stake, addressing historic injustices committed against First Nations and Indigenous people.

“It's very important to our members, especially our youth, who need a future as bright as can be,” Achneepineskum said.

“Moving forward with Ontario in a collaborative manner, we need to also address our past history . . . and learn from that history and move forward in a bright, positive manner that ensures First Nations have their rightful place in this land that we call Canada.

“Historically, there are injustices faced by our First Nations with resource development. We seek to chart a new path moving forward in that any development that happens in our territory -- the First Nations will lead. We're doing that by being proponents of those environmental assessments that ensure these developments happen in the near future.”

While Marten Falls First Nation has been charting their own path lobbying for the Marten Falls Community Access Road – and Webequie First Nation with their Webequie Supply Road – both First Nations have partnered on the Northern Road Link assessment.

Wabasse relayed his optimism about what this agreement can do for First Nations in the Ring of Fire region, saying it all comes down to what is best for their communities.

“The community has a vision to prosper from any development in our area, and the reason for the vision is that we want to be able to work with the government side-by-side, also work with the industry to address some of our needs in our communities, and the well-being of our community,” he said.

Wabasse said it isn’t just about working with Ontario and invested industries but also “other surrounding First Nations” as well.

“I'm very thankful that we are moving forward and looking to the future for real benefits for our communities and we are grateful that we are part of this process where we will benefit and our young people will benefit in the near future,” he added.

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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