Thunder Bay

Framework agreement between Matawa, Ontario 'stalled' MPP says

An agreement that was supposed to guide negotiations between Ontario and nine First Nations that surround the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario has "stalled," according to an opposition member of the legislature.

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa called for resumption of meetings between chiefs, ministers

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa said in the Ontario legislature on Thursday that the framework agreement between Ontario and the nine Matawa First Nations has "stalled." (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

An agreement that was supposed to guide negotiations between Ontario and nine First Nations that surround the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario has "stalled," according to an opposition member of the legislature.

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa spoke during Question Period on Thursday, and probed why the Progressive Conservative government "hasn't engaged with the Matawa chiefs since [the] election."

"Eabametoong First Nation chief [Elizabeth] Atlookan is here today," the New Democrat member said. "Will the premier direct the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, not to get on the bulldozer, but to meet with Chief Atlookan today to begin the dialogue."

The regional framework agreement was established in 2014 by the previous Liberal government and was designed to put a negotiation process in place between Ontario and the nine Matawa communities for proposed development in the Ring of Fire, located about 575 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, in the James Bay lowlands.

The office of Premier Doug Ford responded to a letter of congratulations sent by the Matawa chiefs on Aug. 9, saying that Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford would respond "as soon as possible."

"Yet, no meetings have been scheduled," Mamakwa said.

Relations between the Matawa communities and the former government weren't always smooth, even after the framework agreement was signed.

In 2017, then-Premier Kathleen Wynne wrote to the chiefs, saying they "should not squander" promised funding to develop transportation infrastructure to the James Bay lowlands and that she would work individually with any chief who would work with her.

Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Jeff Yurek responded to Mamakwa's question by saying that the Ring of Fire "has been stagnant" over the previous 15 years, "over lack of consultation, but also the government opposite promised time and time again but failed to follow through."

"The Minister of Indigenous Affairs ... takes his duty to consult very seriously and he will continue to build those relationships with Indigenous communities and municipalities to build lasting partnerships," Yurek said.

With files from Jody Porter