Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse called for “true partnerships” at the 4th Annual Mining Ready Summit, held Oct. 28-29 in Thunder Bay.
“That’s the way going forward for us to have a step in the processes and also be part of the processes that are potentially going to happen in our area,” Wabasse said. “We have to have these agreements and they have to be real and they have to be honoured.”
Wabasse said his community does not want to sign agreements where “nothing is happening on our side.”
“We know that we have to work our part as well too to make that agreement become reality,” Wabasse said. “We need to understand as First Nations about that agreement, what we need to do to make that happen as well too.”
Wabasse said his community is not opposed to development. “We want to be able to benefit from our lands and resources,” Wabasse said. “We want to be able to benefit from any development that is happening in our area. We know that things are changing — we are not going to be trapping and fishing all our lives — we have to look at other ways of benefitting from our lands and resources.”
But the community still does practice its traditional ways of life on the land, including harvesting traditional foods such as moose, caribou, rabbits and partridge.
“We had a good fall harvest this season,” Wabasse said. “The community engaged in a fall hunting festival, so it was good to see our people still very into the traditional ways of life and also eating traditional foods.”
Wabasse said his community suffers from social problems, including addictions to drugs, overcrowding and a high cost of living, and a lack of proper infrastructure, including a shortage of houses and inadequate water, sewer and power generation systems.
“But we do have the new technology, like Internet and mobile cell phones,” Wabasse said.
Wabasse said the community’s Elders in the past have always talked about potential mining developments at some point in the future.
“We see the potential for respectful and sustainable development on our lands and to protect our Aboriginal treaty rights for our children and future generations,” Wabasse said. “We talk to our members and our youngsters about future development in that area, that we need to stick together and work together and work with government and industry to benefit from the potential developments in our area.”
Wabasse said future partnerships and agreements must be based on a foundation of recognition and respect for the community’s Aboriginal and treaty rights and jurisdiction over their traditional lands.
“Without these partnerships, resource development in our territory cannot proceed,” Wabasse said. “But we would like to see success in working with industry and also with government.”
Wabasse said his community has watched for generations as the Crown has disregarded their treaty rights.
“We have seen the Crown repeatedly fail to honour its promises to us,” Wabasse said.
“Authorizations have been granted to companies to develop our lands without our consent while leaving our families to lack our basic needs in the communities. These violations on our Aboriginal treaty relations have made resource development in our territory very difficult to move forward. We have Aboriginal and treaty rights and we need those rights to be recognized and we need to work with government and industry on those Aboriginal treaty rights so that we can move forward in development in our area.”
Wabasse said other First Nations are also affected by the proposed mineral resource development in the Ring of Fire.
“Webequie First Nation along with other First Nations in Ontario have made progress in developing a framework agreement for a process to ensure that development on our lands is respectful on our Aboriginal treaty rights,” Wabasse said.
“We are hopeful that the regional process and direct negotiations with Ontario will be the important first steps for revising our treaty relationship. The process is only just the beginning but already there have been mishaps and delays because of misunderstandings — we don’t fully understand each other. If this process is to succeed, we will need to remain committed to doing the important work of sitting down and reaching agreements.”
Wabasse said any developments in the Ring of Fire mineral exploration area would “boost up the economy” throughout Ontario and Canada.
The Mining Ready Summit featured a wide variety of speakers, including Wabasse, Randall Bartlett from the TD Bank, Jerry Asp from Tahltan Nation, Kimberly Bird and Colleen Martin from NADF, Nancy Wood from Kimesskanemenow Corporation, George Darling from SNC Lavalin, Vern Cheechoo from Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, Glenn Nolan from Noront, Tracy Wright and Anjala Puvananathan from the Ontario government, Kim Toskovich from Grant Thornton, Juan Carlos Reyes from Efficiency.ca, Derek Fox from Erickson and Partners, Denyse Sutherland from Beard Vision Inc., Chris Angeconeb from Lac Seul, John Hatton from Confederation College and John Mason from CEDC.
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