Keeping a close watch on the “Ring of Fire” – by Grand Chief Lawrence Martin (Canadian Mining Journal – June/July 2015)

 The Canadian Mining Journal is Canada’s first mining publication.

Lawrence S. Martin is the Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council. He was elected in November 2014 and will serve to August 2015. He is currently leading and promoting a conceptual plan on the Ring Of Fire Mushkegowuk Energy Infrastructure Corridor. He previously served as Mayor of Cochrane for a period of 10 years and in Sioux Lookout from 1991 to 1994. Lawrence’s extensive knowledge in municipal and aboriginal affairs is a great asset in promoting benefits for the aboriginal population within Northern Ontario. His work focuses on promoting and lobbying for economic benefits and environmental protection for the land and the people he serves as Grand Chief.

As discussions continue on the development of the “Ring of Fire” between governments, industry, and First Nations, many are wondering if this opportunity is real, when it will kickoff, or how they will be able to participate.

Meanwhile at the Mushkegowuk Council, we are sharpening our pencils and watching the scene unfold. We are assessing our role in this newly perceived economic boom in Canada, taking place in our backyard, right upstream from our communities and traditional lands. What
environmental impacts will the development have on the rivers and the waters that run through the muskeg towards us?

Will we be able to secure jobs? Will there be opportunity for any kind of direct participation, economic opportunities, and off-shoot tertiary businesses?

Being respectful of the Matawa First Nations, and not wanting to be in their way of the plans they need to put in place for such a significant change of life and landscape
around them, we decided to offer some solutions by way of corridor infrastructure
perspectives – rail connecting the Ontario Northland Railway and to a seaport in James Bay, and a Hydro line from Quebec. The 1000 MW transmission line is being proposed as a joint venture between the Eeyou Power (Crees from Quebec), Mushkegowuk, the Matawa communities, and perhaps other investors.

This new line would also offer electrification to the Matawa for the communities that are still utilizing diesel generators.

Are we being the Outliers? In speaking with some people in the industry, there is a belief that a railroad through the swamplands between Moosonee and the “Ring of Fire” is not feasible. Is this true?

Some believe that other options for energy and energy providers would best be suited – solar, wind, diesel, and hydro from Ontario Hydro at some point in the future. Some people want to convince us that a seaport in James Bay will not work because the water levels are too low in the Bay to accommodate the appropriate sized ships.

When Mushkegowuk developed 5 Nations Energy, our own transmission line to the communities of Attawapiskat, Ft. Albany and Kashechewan, we were turned down 37 times from the federal
and provincial governments, financiers, and industry.

We were told “NO,” but we didn’t give up. Once we convinced everyone of the viability of such a project, we added a Fibre Optic line to service the communities with fast-speed internet. Today, we are enjoying Facebook like everyone else around the world.

What is our bottom line on the “Ring of Fire?”

Our greatest concern, from lessons learned in previous developments, is that we may be adversely affected if we are not at the board table to discuss impacts on our environment, way of life, economy, education, job security, our current infrastructure, and social well-being. We need to ensure that we have all the necessary safeguards in place. Our involvement is imperative. In what capacity we are involved maintains to be determined.

Years ago we opened the door to sharing the land for mutual prosperity. We brought the land to the table with some conditions, the others brought technology and resources.

Either parties will not benefit without the significant engagement of the other. This is a new day and companies are now beginning to acknowledge this truth and hold it in high regard. They acknowledge the value of our traditional knowledge and the value our people bring to the country’s fabric. Not only do we want to be in the Board rooms and not in Court rooms, we are.

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