First Nations group working on Ring of Fire infrastructure plan (Northern Miner – August 28, 2014)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

Yet another infrastructure plan is in the works for Ontario’s remote Ring of Fire region, this one for an infrastructure corridor consisting of a railway, power, and a seasonal sea port in James Bay.

The big difference here is that the plan is being proposed by First Nations – the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council.

“This is going to be aboriginal-led,” said Mushkegowuk Director of Lands and Resources Vern Cheechoo. “I know there’s other plans in the region – the Ontario government with their corporation plan, we have Ontario Hydro with a grid plan, we have other groups that want to bring infrastructure into the region and we are one of the options. We feel we’re best situated for this.”

Mushkegowuk represents 10,000 people, including members of the Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Moose Cree, Taykwa Tagamou, Chapleau Cree and Missanabie Cree First Nations. The council has started talks with the nine Matawa First Nations, whose territories are closest to the Ring of Fire, on working together.

Some of the previous infrastructure proposals, such as Cliffs’ proposal to build a 340-km all-weather industrial road, for example, proved controversial because of inadequate consultation.

“When looking at all these other plans . . . they don’t mention First Nations too much. All we heard was, yeah, there’s going to be jobs, some economic opportunities, maybe a seat on the board, things like that,” Cheechoo says.

“We felt it was important that we play a big role in unlocking the opportunities in the Ring of Fire, the economic opportunities for all. We want to benefit from it, we want to be able to quite involved with development. To us, it means a lot – it’s our territories, it’s our land, it’s our rivers, we don’t want to be in the back seat when all this development takes place.”

The plan is still just an idea: Cheechoo says the council is looking for $150,000 in capacity funding from government or industry to come up with a concept plan that would outline how to proceed.

Once funding is in place, information-gathering meetings with industry, government officials, and infrastructure experts can take place.

The meetings are crucial to both shape the initiative and gain support for it.

“Industry is actually very interested in meeting with us and that’s what we intend to do as part of building our concept and business case is meeting with industry and meeting with energy companies — Quebec Hydro and rail-related companies — for their expertise.”

Cheechoo says the group will also be meeting with mining companies.

“We hope to meet with Noront and Cliffs at some point because we would need their support to say, ‘yes, this is a good plan, this plan makes sense.’ So we have to make our case.”

The council also has to meet with government officials, especially since the province has its own plans for coordinating and facilitating infrastructure development in the area. Last November, the provincial Liberals, then in a minority government, announced the creation of a new development corporation to take the lead on infrastructure and bring government, industry and First Nations interests together.

The government announced the establishment of the Ring of Fire Infrastructure Development Corporation, based in Thunder Bay, today. The organization has initially been set up with an interim four-member board of civil servants.

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