THUNDER BAY – There often appears to be a stark contrast between the official word from the Ontario Government and from First Nations over the degree of consultation being done. The Matawa First Nations, which contain several of the communities in The Ring of Fire have expressed those concerns for some time now.
Taking steps forward Matawa First Nations have introduced Raymond Ferris, of Constance Lake First Nation, as the new Matawa First Nations Ring of Fire Coordinator. Effective immediately, Ferris will be working on behalf of the nine Matawa First Nations to ensure the communities and their members have the opportunity to participate and benefit from developments in the area.
Ferris has a wealth of experience in the land and resource sector, serving as a former deputy Grand Chief for Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and as Chief of Constance Lake First Nation. Most recently, Ferris worked for Matawa First Nations as the Mining Exploration Advisor and has previously served as the Matawa Board of Director’s President for three years.
CEO David Paul Achneepineskum said “Matawa congratulates Raymond on his new role. This position will be vital to the future of our people and is desperately needed to help coordinate relationships between our First Nations, Government, and Industry. Matawa First Nations are committed to building economic strength and sustainable development in their traditional territory for the benefit of current and future generations, and Raymond will ensure our best interests are put at the forefront during the entire process.”
Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, in a speech to the Port Arthur Rotary Club stated, “Communities of the Matawa Tribal Council are among those most directly impacted by development of the Ring of Fire. Of the nine communities within the Tribal Council, five are remote, fly-in-only communities and four are road-access communities”.
Gravelle added, “Remote First Nations communities such as Webequie and Marten Falls are among those most directly impacted by mining development in the Ring of Fire. An even broader range of communities will potentially be impacted by development of regional infrastructure. We have been working with Matawa Tribal Council communities for several years, both through the tribal council itself, and on an individual community basis. Most recently, Ministry of Natural Resources Minister Linda Jeffery and I signed a Letter of Intent with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to work together on a series of initiatives that will help build community capacity and increase economic development opportunities associated with the Ring of Fire”.
“Currently the Ring of Fire area is said to hold some of the richest minerals in Canada. These natural resources are attracting the interest of hundreds of companies who want to explore the land that includes the traditional hunting trapping and fishing territories of Matawa communities. Ferris says; “My first step will be to work with those communities that are most impacted by the possible development- Marten Falls, Neskantaga, and Webequie First Nations. Working together as a group will ensure that necessary policies, protocols and resources are implemented to protect our traditional lands, our land use rights and our way of life,” continued Gravelle.
However, those words are contrasted by those of the Matawa First Nations. “Consultation means coming to our communities to talk to local people – youth, Elders, trappers, about how a mining development or railway could affect our ways of life or community. Our people only learn about what is happening in their backyards through the media or when they see it with their own eyes when they are out on the lands. They are demanding explanations about how they will be accommodated or benefit from these developments. We as leaders do not have the resources and funding to get the answers and this lack of community engagement by the Government and the mining industry is simply insulting.” stated Chief Cornelius Wabasse of Webequie First Nation.
Close to 100 mining companies have staked claims in the Ring of Fire, but to date there is not one single advanced exploration or mining agreement in place between any of the First Nations and any mining company. Ferris says; “One of my main goals is to get better agreements for the communities. We need to let the industry know that before they advance any activity they need to have an agreement in place with us. Issues like revenue sharing, environmental monitoring- these all need to be included in agreements, and they need to be drafted at the very beginning. I have spent most of my life ensuring the land that my people call home is protected and used for the benefit of First Nations people—I will continue to do so, as the new Matawa First Nations Ring of Fire Coordinator.”
Matawa Chiefs continue to demand that exploration agreements be negotiated with each impacted First Nation and that process be properly funded by the government and industry. Chief Arthur Moore of Constance Lake First Nation says; “The new Ring of Fire Coordinator will help our communities communicate to industry that the only way to bring developments into our territory is with proper land use planning, protecting the natural environment and wildlife, accommodating the needs of local First Nations people and benefit sharing through partnerships.”
Continues Chief Moore; “It is critical that during the initial stages industries and government agencies ,both Federal and Provincial, respect First Nations protocols that will be identified in the exploration agreements to necessitate good relationships and benefits.”
In his new role as Ring of Fire Coordinator, Ferris will develop a comprehensive strategy that will respond to short-, medium- and long-term goals. In cooperation with Matawa, Ferris will also implement policies that ensures continuous and effective communication between the communities, government and industry.
Matawa First Nations announced the need for a Ring of Fire Coordinator in October of 2010.