OTTAWA — First Nations peoples refuse to be “marginalized” and will demand their share of the riches associated with a proposed mineral development project in northern Ontario, says Bob Rae.
The former senior politician, now chief negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council, told Postmedia News in an interview that the so-called Ring of Fire project has great potential for both the Canadian economy and for indigenous peoples in the region.
He stressed that two critical issues are on the table if the minerals are to be dug out of the ground: First Nations must be comfortable with the long-term environmental impact; and must see improvements to their education and training and have a share of mineral royalties.
“We’re seeing a much greater determination on the part of First Nations to benefit directly from any development,” said Rae, who quit politics last summer to take on his new task.
Rae spent decades looking for solutions in politics — first as a young New Democrat MP, later as Ontario’s NDP premier, and more recently, as a federal Liberal MP and interim party leader.
These days, he is facing a new challenge: Ensure that First Nations don’t get left on the sidelines if the Ring of Fire is developed.
“They want to make sure that they are not marginalized,” said Rae.
“This is important for people to appreciate. It’s a very serious effort on the part of First Nations to get in from the ground up and not wait until the developments are way far along and people say, ‘You get a little piece of that and a little piece of this.’ ”
As well, at the heart of what is needed is a recognition of the legacy left by Canada’s treatment of aboriginals.
“It’s not just impoverishment of income,” said Rae.
“It’s impoverishment of spirit. People have been marginalized and beaten about for so long, it’s made it really tough. It makes the engagement a challenge. And it means that there’s just a lot of resentment and anger that needs to be overcome before you can get to an effective outcome.”
The Ring of Fire area, about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, is said to have the economic potential of Alberta’s oilsands.
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