Treaty 3 area Chiefs sign unity agreement for Highway 17 twinning from Kenora to Manitoba

A group of First Nation leaders in the Kenora area have gathered in Thunder Bay on Monday to meet with senior representatives of Ontario's Ministry of Transportation on the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway from Kenora to Manitoba.

Leaders met with the Ministry of Transportation on Monday

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Chief, Erwin Redsky (l) stands with Chief of Obashkaandagaang, Marilyn Sinclair (m) and Chief Chris Skead of Wauzhushk and Chief Lorraine Cobiness of Ochiichagwe'Babigo'Ining. (Christina Jung / CBC)

A group of First Nation leaders in the Kenora area gathered in Thunder Bay on Monday to meet with senior representatives of Ontario's Ministry of Transportation on the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway from Kenora to Manitoba.

Leaders of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Obashkaandagaang (Washagamis Bay) First Nation, Ochiichagwae'Babigo'Ining (Dalles) First Nation and Wauzhushk Onigum (Rat Portage) First Nation said they signed a unity agreement prior to Monday's meeting to voice their shared concerns, knowledge and interests.

"We want to work with governments, we want to work with industry, communities, municipalities," Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Chief Erwin Redsky said, "[The highway] travels through the Treaty 3 territories as well, so we want everyone to benefit from this project."

He said he first heard about the proposal to twin Highway 17 in 2010 and immediately "wanted to get involved," but have not heard anything since.

"We want to know what's been done to date," Redsky added. 

"We want to basically get involved right at the outset ... because our elders, our communities know the territory; where the respectful sacred items are, where traditional practices are ... [and] we need to share that."

Chief of Obashkaandagaang, Marilyn Sinclair, feels the project is also needed in the area in order to ensure the safety of drivers, however would "like to have total involvement in the process with the Ministry of Transportation" as well.

"We're the keepers of the land and we want to be recognized as that and we want it done properly," Sinclair explained, "and the highway has gotten so busy, especially in the summer time, so it comes down to safety."

She believes this project, if done collectively, will not only boost the economy, but also create jobs and attract new businesses into the area.

"Being part of the negotiations and being consulted on what we want and where we want the road to be located, that's important to us," Sinclair said.