As Chief, I often have the honour of delivering good news, and sometimes have the challenge of explaining difficult news… while at other times I relay information that could be taken either way. Today, I want to speak with some clarity and perspective into an uncertain situation.
On August 21 2017, we heard an announcement that Ontario was funding two road proposals. One led by Marten Falls in an North-South alignment, and one led by Webequie and Nibinamik in a relative East-West alignment. This announcement was characterized in the media as a ‘green light’ for Ring of Fire roads. That is not the case. No decisions of that scale have been made.
This follows the Premier’s statement from May that Ontario is willing to work with any individual First Nation that would propose a road corridor into the Ring of Fire area. However, this does go against much of the community-based and collective regional work that we had proposed to do as Matawa First Nations at the Regional Framework Process and sound more like an Ontario and Industry tactic to divide our interests.
This announcement was premature in a few respects;
-since we have made progress at our Jurisdiction table with Ontario and are working towards a joint decision making process for roads, permitting, and land management, but these discussions have not been completed and there is no agreement yet;
-we have a Regional Framework Agreement table where regional infrastructure planning work should be discussed in partnership and openness among all parties; and,
-most importantly, we have made a commitment to work in a well-reasoned, community-driven way. These top-down type of surprises to our membership is not how Eabametoong would do business.
Among the Matawa First Nations, we have signed a unity declaration. This contains vital principles to EFN in all our regional work, and we expect others to abide by it as well. At present, we have not received details of these proposals from the First Nations involved or Ontario, but we are working hard to secure facts to relay back to our members.
We have inherent rights and treaty rights in the areas that are being discussed. Both proposed routes traverse the lands and rivers of Eabametoong First Nation. Our rights are not limited to specific places, but the type of potential change that could come from these road proposals may impact our fundamental rights to self-determination. Be assured that EFN will defend our collective rights and interests with many tools and great strength if necessary, as directed by our members.
At this point, there are very few details available on what is being proposed. We will be reporting back regularly as we find out more. We are working toward becoming recognized by all, including government and industry, as decision makers who have the right to free, prior, and informed consent within our territory. We have already invested a lot of time and energy as a community, and with other First Nations, into considering various infrastructure options, and will continue to do so in a principled and community-driven way, not rushed by others.
Please understand that your views and opinions on this set of issues are vitally important to all of EFN. This is why we have built our Resource Stewardship Dept. team. Please take this again as another invite to come and speak with them as we dig into these issues. Also, it is important to note that the Council and I are working closely with Neskantaga on a joint response to this news. We have issued a media release (see here), and plan to take further steps together to ensure our rights are protected, and community visions for the future may be achieved according to our collective values and interests. We have close allies, and look forward to strengthening our relations through this challenging time.
Chief Atlookan & Council