THUNDER BAY – The signals are all on the table for anyone willing to read them. First Nations in Northwestern Ontario are not prepared to accept lip service from the provincial government on the Ring of Fire. The issue is one that has been coming for sometime now, and has not been covered all that much in the main-stream media. Comments from Matawa First Nations leaders, and Nishinawbe Aski Nation leaders have ranged from frustration to anger. Already there is word of blockades on-going to stop activity related to mining exploration.
To quote a famous movie line from Cool Hand Luke – “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.
Now too be sure, no politician is likely to agree with that statement. There has been lots of talking going on, but for communication to happen, there must be both a sender and a receiver. It is looking more all the time that there is lots of talking, but not much listening. We have years of what appears to be lip service paid by Premier McGuinty. The Premier is likely damaging the ability of his Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry to actually achieve anything substantive. McGuinty has poisoned the well with years of happy promises that he has not delivered on.
Maybe the goals are different? Maybe the Premier’s audience is the Toronto environmental crowd, while the Minister’s audience is the miners and the First Nations? It is likely that this issue have been coming to a head for a long time, and not well covered by many in the media. Often it seems First Nations issues are not considered all that important. That is a mistake. The issues are really important, both for Thunder Bay, and for all of the region.
The “failure to communicate” has to stop.
Friday, Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs expressed it quite clearly, “We are trying to make carrot cake, and the First Nations have all the carrots”. Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle should realize that for the Ring of Fire to succeed, it needs those carrots. It is Gravelle’s job to make sure that message is being delivered to the caucus table and to the office of the Premier.
Likely, however, Minister Gravelle is not used to having senior leaders state facts that run counter to his enthusiastic words. Hobbs is making a habit of it. It will be interesting to see how some of the other members of City Council handle having a Mayor who is more willing to put Thunder Bay’s needs before partisan politics? Already online some members of City Council appear ready to line up behind Michael Gravelle rather than the City of Thunder Bay.
The trouble is. while the province pretends that all is well, the facts are that they are not, and Premier McGuinty has gone silent on the issues of the North, leaving our two MPPs holding a bag of promises, but leaving residents without the contents.
What have the warning signs been? On September 14th 2010, NAN Grand Chief Beardy said, “First Nations, Tribal Councils, and Nishnawbe Aski Nation have repeatedly presented our concerns on Bill 191to the provincial government. To date these recommendations are not reflected in the current amendments.”
On September 17th 2010, Beardy stated, “The voices of First Nations people in Northern Ontario continue to fall on deaf ears. The Premier of Ontario has failed to honor his promise to NAN First Nations that Bill 191 would not become legislation without our support. In yesterday’s Question Period, Premier McGuinty could not answer as to whether he intended to keep his word. It is obvious that his words mean very little and his promises even less.”
On September 30th 2010, Beardy stated, “These are our lands therefore there will not be any movement in terms of development in NAN territory without the consent of the affected First Nations”.
Beardy is not alone, repeatedly Chiefs from Matawa First Nations have said that they are not being consulted over mining issues on their lands. Matawa First Nations have put forward their own Ring of Fire Co-ordinator.
The die is cast for problems, but the message seems lost on Premier McGuinty. It is almost as if by inviting First Nations leaders to Queen’s Park when Queen Elizabeth was in Ontario, that he has done his duty. Huge mistake.
For Ontario, the timing could not be worse, the announcements on the Ring of Fire are coming fast and fierce. There is huge potential in the project. However
First Nations are not willing to have token positions for workers. The opportunities are there, but Ontario and the federal government both need to step up their game to ensure that the benefits are shared.
If you consider it, the potential for the Ring of Fire could prove, if all the politicians get their game together as a massive benefit to the entire region.
It has the potential for our First Nation neighbours to move up economically, and have better lives. In Thunder Bay there is a growing middle class of Aboriginal people who are working here in the City of Thunder Bay.
In Thunder Bay and across Northwestern ONtario, the stronger the economy is, the better off we all are. Perhaps the economic theory that when the tide comes in, all ships rise should be considered. Leaving First Nations in third world or worse conditions is a long-term recipe for disaster.
What is needed from Ontario is greater understanding that it is going to take more than a desire to talk, and likely it is going to take more than Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Micheal Gravelle’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm. Lets be honest, compared to Minister Gravelle almost everyone else in our region could almost be considered a grouch. Even as the strongest words are being stated by First Nation’s Leader’s Gravelle is delivering a solid message of smiles.
Time will tell if Gravelle’s enthusiasm will top the negativity that that has built up. However it is likely that as we head into the full on politics of an election year it will be easier to share sunshine than tell people that mistakes have been made and the promises made might not be kept.