A new partnership between First Nations in northwestern and northeastern Ontario is designed to make fresh food and other groceries more affordable in remote Ontario communities.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake), Lac Seul First Nation and Creewest GP Inc., which is a for-profit corporation owned by First Nations in the northeast, including Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, and Weenusk First Nations.

The agreement is to build a food distribution and logistics centre in Sioux Lookout, Ont.,  to better provide food to northern communities.

The high cost of staple supplies, like fruit, vegetables and fresh milk is something remote First Nations struggle with, said Clifford Bull, Chief of Lac Seul.

"In that way it will help, being part of this partnership," he said. "Also, it will create jobs and opportunities for members from all regions and all communities."

The plan calls for a new warehouse hangar to be built at the airport in Sioux Lookout which would include refrigerated storage, and act as both the transport hub for shipping food north and the business centre for processing orders and transactions.

Better food for better health

Having better access to quality food will benefit the health of people in remote communities, Bull said.

"A lot of the food that's been sent up there is a lot of, I would categorize it as junk food, and that's primarily the cause of  a lot of our illnesses, diabetes for example," he said.

Clifford Bull

Lac Seul Chief Clifford Bull says the project will facilitate the transportation of healthier food to remote northern communities. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

First Nations would be responsible for procuring the food, while Creewest would handle the logistics of transporting the goods from the proposed warehouse to the communities, said Ron Basaraba, Chief Executive Officer of Creewest.

That would be done, either on the planes the corporation owns, or through partnerships with other carriers, like Air Creebec.

Funding for the project is expected to come from a variety of sources, like the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, FedNor, the Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund, and Creewest's own capital, said Basaraba, adding that Creewest would own 51 per cent of the project, and member First Nations, including KI and Lac Seul, would own 49 per cent.

He added that the initial goal is to reduce the cost of groceries in northern communities by 40 per cent, and he hopes to see the project up and running within a year.

"We build this thing, there's going to be all the communities involved, I'm pretty sure," Basaraba said. "They're going to want to jump on board this."