‘Building our society and economy’: Government and industry should be open to new approaches, Webequie chief says – by Bryan Phelan (Onotassiniik Magazine – Fall 2014)


Cornelius Wabasse says he has focused his three terms as chief of Webequie First Nation on community development; on finding ways for his community to prosper.

At the same time, “We have a lot of community needs, social problems as well,” Wabasse said as a panelist at the Ontario Mining Forum. It would take $28 million to bring infrastructure for the 765 people in Webequie up to the Canadian standard, according to a band study finding made public last year.

Webequie is located 540 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, where the Mining Forum took place June 18-19. It’s also close to the Ring of Fire, a geologically rich area of minerals.

Wabasse and leaders of eight other First Nations that make up the Matawa Chiefs Council signed a framework agreement with Ontario in the spring to guide regional negotiations for mining development in the area.

“We must enter into enduring agreements, new relationships, with both (the federal and provincial) governments and industry as part of the Ring of Fire development,” Wabasse said of the challenges ahead. “We must be involved in ways that respect our treaty rights, support our communities, protect our culture, and build our society and economy. We expect both government and industry to be open to new and innovative ways for these benefits to be realized.”

David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO for Matawa First Nations Management (MFNM), a tribal council providing support services to the nine First Nations of Matawa, sat alongside Wabasse as a panelist at the Mining Forum.

“The province has come to the table to negotiate critical elements of development with us, on education, training, environmental monitoring, infrastructure, and resource revenue sharing,” Achneepineskum said of priorities under the framework agreement with Ontario.

He also welcomed the June 12 provincial election result that returned the Liberals to power. “I want to congratulate Kathleen Wynne in her majority win for (forming) the next Ontario government,” Achneepineskum said. “We believe we have made major developments in our relations with her and her government. We believe the next four years can be a win-win situation for all.

“We hope the federal government will soon become engaged in development talks and processes,” he added.
Achneepineskum warned that Matawa chiefs might insist that critical health, social and infrastructure problems are solved before any mining development takes place in the Ring of Fire. “The chief (Wabasse) and I have been talking about our people wanting to be involved in discussions, wanting to be meaningfully engaged, and it’s not just about mining issues or the environment,” he said. “We have a lot of social and health issues that we need to deal with. We need a lot of help in that.”

Asked by Onotassiniik about the prospect of such issues having to be solved before any Ring of Fire development proceeds, Alan Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources responded in part: “To me, that sounds like a discussion for the provincial and the federal governments more than the mining companies.”

Pending environmental assessment approval, Noront hopes to begin this coming winter on construction of an all-season road to its proposed Eagle’s Nest mine for nickel, copper, platinum and palladium, Coutts said.

“We think we’re part of the solution. We like to think that by getting involved with the communities and developing the operations we can help deal with some of those other important community issues. We’re happy our project could potentially benefit, albeit indirectly, in some of those areas.”

Noront’s project is at the most advanced stage of any in the Ring of Fire but Eagle’s Nest won’t be a producing mine until at least 2018, added Coutts. The mine site is located on the traditional lands of Webequie and two other Matawa First Nations, Marten Falls and Neskantaga.