Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney joined Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford at Rat Portage First Nation today, as they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four First Nations.
"It was a great day for all. You can tell by the smiles, and the jubilation. So, things are looking on the up and up in the future," said Chief Chris Skead of Wauzhushk Onigum, who hosted the signing ceremony.
"Aside from the process of bidding and signing a contract, the people of Kenora and the northwest need to know we're good to go," said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, who also serves as the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development.
Chiefs from the Four Winds partnership had been working with the province on studying the impacts of the project on their traditional lands. The communities included Rat Portage, Dalles, Washagamis Bay and Shoal Lake 40.
“From time immemorial, resource-sharing in our territory has been guided by Manito Aki Inakonigaawin –our Great Earth Law. When we follow this path and its protocols, wise, fair and sustainable decisions are made for both the land and the people …for all the people who share these lands. Our collaboration with MTO is already showing the practical effectiveness of harmonizing Anishinaabe and western ways. So much more can get done –and faster –when we combine our strengths!” added the chief of Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation, also known as Rat Portage.
Funding for the project was announced in 2009 by the prime minister and premier of Ontario. However, there have been a number of delays since then.
"It makes me very proud," said Treaty 3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh.
"The agreement signed today was under the auspices of the Manito Aki Inakonigaawin, the resource law. What's very pleasing to me, also, is the efforts of collaboration in true partnership between First Nation governments and the province and partly the federal -- they're not totally on board yet, but they will be coming on board," he added, underlining the importance of ceremonies associated with the process.
After the completion of Freedom Road last year, the door was opened for members of Shoal Lake 40 to join the partnership for the twinning project.
“Everyone wants good, safe roads but, in the past, Ontario’s roads and highways have damaged our resources, our sacred places and marginalized our people. We’re hopeful that the path of partnership that we’re committing to walk with Ontario will, in fact, lead us to the Minister’s promise of meaningful, sustainable economic opportunities for our people. We know from Freedom Road that, given the chance, we have a lot to contribute,” said Councillor Billy Wahpay of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
Washagamis Bay First Nation Chief Marilyn Sinclair was also pleased.
“By respecting our Manito Aki Inakonigaawin laws and protocols, the MTO’s technical team have learned that it’s possible for us to work side by side toward common goals. I have to underline that the positive ceremony today should not be misread as our approval. However, the commitments of Ontario’s Cabinet Ministers makes it possible that the partnership between the Anishinaabeg and the Crown can lead us to mutual success, not only for the twinning project, but well beyond,” added Chief Marilyn Sinclair of Washagamis Bay First Nation.
The four First Nations formed a partnership in 2018 for talks with the MTO on the twinning project.
“The Anishinaabeg in Treaty 3 are demonstrating time and time again, that the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate can be a win-win. Working together is good for the whole region. Following Manito Aki Inakonigaawin actually improves the ‘consultation’ process, and it can even speed up decision-making. The Crown’s respect for our Treaty partnership gives us a solid base as we move forward on the important work of accommodation,” said Chief Lorraine Cobiness of Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation, also known as the Dalles.
The Four Winds group was recently recognized as a finalist for the ECO Canada impact award.
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