Thunder Bay

Treaty 3 communities, Ontario transportation ministry sign highway-twinning agreement

Four northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities have signed an agreement with the province's transportation ministry over the planned twinning of the TransCanada Highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border.

Memorandum of Understanding applies to twinning of TransCanada Highway from Kenora to Manitoba border

(L-R) Washagamis Bay First Nation Chief Marilyn Sinclair, Shoal Lake #40 Councillor Billy Wahpay, Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, Kenora MPP Greg Rickford, Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation Chief Lorainne Cobiness, and Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation Chief Chris Skead sign a memorandum of understanding that will guide the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway from Kenora to the Manitoba border. (Ministry of Transportation)

Four northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities have signed an agreement with the province's transportation ministry over the planned twinning of the TransCanada Highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border.

Washagamis Bay First Nation, Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation, Shoal Lake #40 First Nation, and Wauzhushk Onigum Nation, collectively known as the Niiwiin Wendaanimok Partnership, signed the memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) on Wednesday.

In a media release Wednesday, Ontario's Ministry of Transportation said the project will include widening and twinning the highway to reduce travel times and increase safety.

The agreement signed Wednesday will guide the project as parts of the highway pass through the communities' traditional territories.

"From time immemorial, resource-sharing in our territory has been guided by Manito Aki Inakonigaawin — our Great Earth Law," Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation Chief Chris Skead said in a statement. "When we follow this path and its protocols, wise, fair and sustainable decisions are made for both the land and the people."

"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."

Environmental assessment underway

In a statement, the partnership said an environmental assessment based on Anishinaabe knowledge, laws, and protocols, is underway.

"The Anishinaabeg in Treaty 3 are demonstrating time and time again, that the Crown's duty to consult and accomodate can be a win-win," Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation Chief Chief Lorraine Cobiness said in a statement. "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."

Work begins in summer 2020

Work is expected to begin on the first phase of the project in summer 2020, including twinning the 6.5-kilometre stretch of highway running from the Manitoba/Ontario border to Highway 673.

A specific start date wasn't provided, nor was a timeline for the completion of the project.

"The signing of today's agreement with Niiwin Wendaanimok is a key milestone for this important project," Caroline Mulroney, Ontario's minister of transportation,  said in a statement.

"We are committed to maintaining a long-term working relationship with Indigenous communities in the Kenora area to ensure the successful completion of the project. We have a shared goal to create meaningful economic opportunities for local Indigenous communities and build better transportation in Northern Ontario."