Wawatay News is Northern Ontario’s First Nation Voice with offices in Sioux Lookout, Timmins and Thunder Bay. This article was posted on their website on March 17, 2011. James Thom is the Editor – [email protected]
For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery
About 35 years ago, the James Bay Cree communities in Quebec faced similar obstacles and challenges to those facing the Matawa Ring of Fire communities today.
Anthony MacLeod, director of a Cree owned catering and janitorial services company, shared the story of how nine Cree communties banded together to find benefit when Hydro Quebec began damming rivers in their traditional lands to make hydro.
“What they are experiencing now – interest in their land, development likely coming soon – we were experiencing that 30 to 35 years ago,” MacLeod said, speaking at the Matawa First Nations Community Governance & Economic Development Conference March 1-2.
“We have been working with the Matawa communities for two years, showing them models we have as a nation, to show what we went through. It wasn’t all happy and successful. But we recognized we were much stronger as a united group than as individual nations.”
In 1974, the nations came together against Hydro Quebec, he said.
The James Bay And Northern Quebec Agreement was created, detailing health, education and economic development and financial compensation. It was signed by governments of Canada, Quebec, publicly owned Hydro-Québec, the Grand Council of the Crees, headed by Billy Diamond, and the Northern Quebec Inuit Association.
“The settlement was one thing,” MacLeod, from the Cree Nation of Mistissini, said. “With us, what was most important was coming together. The government had to recognize we were the occupants of the land … and they did.”
What has happened since is the First Nations have become major players in infrastructure and the air through the creation of joint venture companies, he said, like Air Creebec. The airline began as a 51 per cent First Nation-owned company in 1982. By 1988, partner Austin Airways was bought out leaving Air Creebec 100 per cent First Nation owned.
MacLeod heads Gestion ADC, 100 per cent Aboriginal owned since an original partner was bought out, which was formed in 1993 based on a need to provide services during construction of more dams.
“It should have been done a lot sooner,” he said, adding it would have allowed more people to be trained and gotten them working.
That’s something he is hopeful will be addressed with the Ring of Fire, which is home to a vast wealth of minerals, including the only known North American deposit of chromite. The Ring of Fire development is located in the traditional lands of Webequie and Marten Falls.
“You have to get people ready (to work),” he said. “Day one starts tomorrow. Day doesn’t start when the project opens its doors. Training doesn’t start overnight. If you start training now, you will be ready in a few years when the development is ready to proceed.”
MacLeod can understand the fear people have with development, how life might change and the risks involved.
“There was no all-season road access to our communities before Hydro Quebec,” he said. “Hydro brought the roads.”
But, the roads brought drugs and alcohol, he said.
“There was damage done to the community because of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “But we developed programs. We have our own AA (alcoholics anonymous) meetings.”