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“Good progress” is being made at the bargaining table on a framework agreement between the Matawa Tribal Council and the provincial government on advancing the Ring of Fire, says former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, who represents the Council in the negotiations. But he warns that much work needs to be done and says he “refuses to give in to the sentiment that says this has got to be done in two weeks, or two months, or four months.”
“This has got to be done right and it has to be done in a way that shows real understanding and respect for the people whose lives are going to be more impacted than the lives of anyone in this room,” he said during a panel discussion Tuesday at the PDAC.
Rae argues that the First Nations have to be consulted in a way that is different from consultations that have taken place in the past. Ontario is a province that has relied extensively on mining for development for over 150 years, he points out, but “this development has taken place without particularly benefiting First Nations communities.”
When people talk about what has to be done so that this project or this part of Ontario is able to benefit from growth and prosperity, Rae says, “it’s really quite simple.” You have to persuade the First Nations that the project is environmentally sustainable [there are huge environmental issues given there are four major river systems, and the area is “one of the last pristine wildernesses in the country]; that there will be infrastructure improvements that will benefit them; that there will be jobs and training for them; that generations of poverty will be overcome as a result of the development; and that there will be permanent improvements in their revenue stream as a result of the profits generated from these projects.
“Every single one of the communities in the Ring of Fire is effectively on welfare,” he says. “Not only personally are people on welfare but the communities themselves are on welfare. The communities are completely dependent on government handouts for their survival.”
Rae says that in his travels and discussions with First Nations communities, it is clear that they want jobs and work but that they also want “respect and a degree of dignity” and an understanding that they have a claim to the use of the land and the benefits of that use that go back several millennia.
“The arrival of European settlement has not brought with it great prosperity and it has not brought with it great benefit yet,” he says. “And it’s up to our generation, it seems to me, to show that we can have this kind of development and that it will work to benefit people who have been living on the margins of society, on the margins of economic prosperity, for a very long time.”
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