Ontario will be working with Webequie, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations to plan and construct a year-round access road into the proposed Ring of Fire mining development site being pursued by Noront Resources Ltd.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement August 21 while in Thunder Bay with the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle, Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum and Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse.
The announcement confirmed that Ontario will support First Nations to plan and construct an east-west road connecting the Webequie and Nibinamik communities to the provincial highway network north of Pickle Lake. This project would provide all-season access to both First Nations communities as well as into the Ring of Fire development. Also, the announcement said Ontario would be supporting Marten Falls to plan and construct an access road connecting the community to the existing provincial highway network at Aroland/Nakina.
Wynne said planning and Environmental Assessments would begin immediately with hopes that if all goes well in the planning stages, shovels would be in the ground to start construction of the roads in 2019.
“This partnership reaches an important milestone,” Wynne said. “There is not a lot of resource benefit and sharing partnerships with First Nations in Canada. This partnership will provide economic and social opportunities for the people in the communities.”
Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum noted that the partnership signals significant change in how First Nations and governments do business together. “It’s important because we have to do this the right way,” he said.
Building these roads is a critical step in realizing the economic benefits of one of the biggest mineral-development opportunities in Ontario in almost a century. Funding for these roads is part of the government's commitment to invest $1 billion in Ring of Fire infrastructure to create jobs, provide long-term benefits and improve quality of life for people in the region.
Ontario is also working to support these First Nations as they address all regulatory requirements so that this unique environment is protected.
The province welcomes this merging of cultural considerations with regulatory requirements and will ensure First Nations and their perspectives, including traditional knowledge, are carefully considered in decision-making.
“This partnership will blend cultural and environmental considerations,” Wynne said. “When we have not listened to the traditional knowledge, we have made mistakes.”
Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse said: “We hope this is a new beginning and a better beginning for our communities. We were never opposed to the development but needed to make sure we worked together with the government, industry, and the nearby communities in our area.”