The Chief of Neskantaga First Nation is already outlining what he wants Bob Rae to negotiate, even though the interim Liberal leader hasn't officially declared he's taking the job of representing northern Ontario First Nations in the Ring of Fire.
Chief Peter Moonias said he wants Rae's help to convince the province of Ontario to respect the treaty rights of First Nations that will be affected by the massive mining development, 500 km northeast of Thunder Bay.
He added he wants to make sure his community isn't any worse off than it is now, especially after the mine is built.
There is no safe drinking water in Neskantaga, and a severe shortage of housing on the reserve, but people are able to rely on the land to hunt and fish and provide for their basic needs.
"We're asking for a standard of living as good as anywhere in Ontario," Moonias said. "Because [when the mine comes] we're going to lose our way of life and we're going to have to adjust to a new way of life."
Moonias is among nine chiefs from the Matawa First Nations who have tapped Rae as their choice for lead negotiator if they can convince the province to engage in talks before the mining development proceeds.
Rae hasn't formally committed to the job yet, but he has asked the ethics commissioner for permission to take the outside work after a new Liberal leader is chosen next month and Rae goes back to being a regular MP.
Much of his address to Thunder Bay's Chamber of Commerce on Monday focused on the Ring of Fire.
He compared the Ring of Fire area to the potential recognized in the Sudbury basin 100 years ago, and said there are similar opportunities to "create prosperity, but prosperity has its challenges."
Rae went on to outline the three pillars he said are necessary to ensuring success in the Ring of Fire:
- The need to create prosperity from the minerals in the ground.
- The need to share that prosperity with First Nations in the area.
- The need to respect the environment and develop the mines in a sustainable way.
Thunder Bay city councillor Rebecca Johnson said she came to the Chamber of Commerce event specifically to hear what Rae would say about the Ring of Fire, and she was impressed.
"I think this is an opportunity for someone who is respected on all sides to sit down at the tables that are necessary to make this Ring of Fire move forward," she said.
"[Rae's potential involvement] made me feel that there really are opportunities there and that Aboriginal people will be able to obtain what is their right in this area. And that's good."