Ontario government signs agreement with two First Nations on Ring of Fire road
But the chief of Neskantaga says his community will oppose the development
Premier Doug Ford and Kenora MP Greg Rickford, the minister of energy, mines, northern development and Indigenous affairs signed an agreement Monday with Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations to move forward with a north-south road to the Ring of Fire.
The signing ceremony took place at the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto.
"We look forward to working together with Ontario to ensure the sustainable development of our ancestral territories," Marten Falls First Nation Chief Bruce Achneepineskum said in a statement. "We are moving ahead with this agreement so all communities in the region can connect to the next phase, which is to secure and bring good-paying jobs in mining, construction and other skilled trades to our communities."
The chief of Webequie said he too hoped the road would lead to prosperity.
"We understand that road development will impact our traditional territories but believe this is a positive step forward to unlocking new opportunities that will benefit all surrounding First Nation communities," Cornelius Wabasse said.
But not everyone is happy with the announcement.
Members of Neskantaga First Nation will fight the development, Chief Chris Moonias told CBC.
"The community has said that if they have to go to the land and protect the land, they will do it," he said. "We will stand in the way if we have to on the land."
Moonias only learned of the government's announcement minutes before it took place, he said, adding that Neskantaga has not had any contact with the Ford government since the Progressive Conservatives took power.
"They just basically stopped talking to us. They haven't reached out. They haven't said anything to us," he said.
"We had a working relationship under the regional framework agreement so there was some communication between the province and the community. There was some regular discussions... talking about jurisdiction, the proper way of consulting the community and how to get the free, prior and informed consent, but that didn't happen."
The community is disappointed by the decision to forge ahead with the road without consulting members, he said. The lack of communication leaves them unable to make informed decisions about it.
"I know I'm going to get a direction to oppose this," Moonias said.
"[Community members] want to protect their livelihood... Right now, we're not being asked to change our lives. We're being told to change our lives, and that doesn't sit well with the community."
CBC requested an interview with the minister of energy, northern development and mines, Greg Rickford, at around 1:30 p.m. Monday to address concerns about the project. He has not yet responded.
Earlier Monday, representatives of the East West Road Coalition, which had been lobbying the government to explore all possible routes to the Ring of Fire, held its own news conference to restate its message.
Spokesperson Doug Lawrance, the mayor of Sioux Lookout, was also caught by surprise by the government's announcement but said his group will continue to advocate for all-weather road access to the north.
"If this is the decision to access the Ring of Fire and service the communities proximate to it," he said, "from this point really we're joining with First Nations in advocating for a rational development of all-weather roads to the many communities who lack that access right now north of Sioux Lookout."