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4 First Nations sign deal with Ontario to build roads near Ring of Fire

4 First Nations sign deal with Ontario to build roads near Ring of Fire

The province says Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek, Aroland First Nation, Ginoogaming First Nation and Long Lake #58 First Nation will see their roads that connect to the provincial road network strengthened and updated

Four First Nations have signed an agreement with Ontario for new roads, other infrastructure projects and skills training, as the province lays a foundation for plans to mine the mineral-rich Ring of Fire region.

The province said Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek, Aroland First Nation, Ginoogaming First Nation and Long Lake #58 First Nation will see their roads that connect to the provincial road network strengthened and updated.

The area’s major roads, Highway 11 and Highway 584, will be reinforced and repaved. Work is expected to start before winter.

The roads, about 300 kilometers east of Thunder Bay, Ont., will support the development of crucial minerals and resources, Premier Doug Ford said.

“These are all-season roads that will support First Nations communities, built by First Nations workers,” Ford said Tuesday.

The province signed letters of acknowledgment with Kenogamisis Investment Corporation and Minodahmun Development, the former owned by the four First Nations and the latter owned by three of them.

The province is investing in the area, known as Greenstone, as part of its long-term strategy to develop the area and regions north of the Ring of Fire.

“This historic agreement will help strengthen the Greenstone region, better connect First Nations and northern communities to the province’s highway network and improve year-round access to daily necessities such as food, fuel and health care” , said Ford.

Greenstone Gold Mines, one of the country’s largest open-pit mines, will officially open later this summer.

The province is seeking to create an end-to-end production chain for electric vehicle batteries and sees the Ring of Fire region in northern Ontario as a key source for the necessary minerals.

Two other communities, Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation, have signed agreements with the province to handle environmental assessments of three proposed roads to the Ring of Fire.

Several First Nations, both inside and outside the Ring of Fire region, have said mining cannot take place on their traditional territories without their prior informed consent.

Building Greenstone is a priority for the province, said Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford. It is an area he calls the ‘corridor to prosperity’.

As part of the deal with the four First Nations, the province will spend $2 million to build the Migizi Plaza Rest Stop, which will serve as a hub for nearby communities. The province will also spend $1.9 million to provide training to secure mineral development jobs.

“Building on the success of today’s announcement, we believe we are in the best position any government has ever been to build the Corridor to Prosperity for the benefit of isolated First Nation communities to our north and a real prospect of the development of crucial minerals in the Ring. of fire,” said Rickford.

“We are laying the foundation for Greenstone to become the new center of gravity for mining, in partnership with First Nations.”

The Ontario Provincial Police also need a new detachment in the area because the current location is needed for the gold mine. The province says it will work on relocating the police station.

The four First Nations welcomed the news, although one leader said their participation was under pressure.

“The Minodahmun Indigenous Workforce Development Program is critical to giving our people the skills and opportunities to build meaningful careers, strengthen our communities and ensure our members participate in projects on our lands,” said Ginoogaming First Nation Chief Sheri Taylor.

But Taylor disagreed with the province’s approach to reconciliation for the First Nation.

“It is not lost on us that projects that benefit the Ontario government take precedence over the resolution of our emergency and the seventy years of grievances we have experienced under this part of James Bay Treaty No. 9,” Taylor said. .

The First Nation declared a state of emergency in mid-May, saying it was “overwhelmed” by an increase in violence and drug- and alcohol-fueled crime. Taylor said they have asked Anishinabek police and Ontario Provincial Police, who share police duties, to increase their presence.

“The government expects economic reconciliation without properly addressing long-standing First Nations concerns,” said New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, the only First Nation member of the Ontario legislature.

The rest stop plaza will be an important part of the region’s development, said Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek Chief Yvette Metansinine.

“Migizi Plaza will showcase the vibrant culture of our communities,” Metansinine said. “The Plaza will provide valuable economic development and employment opportunities to community members and enable our First Nations to be active participants in the development of the region.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press