Matawa First Nations chiefs met with Ontario’s premier on March 6, in an effort to begin negotiations on working together to develop the Ring of Fire.
Following the meeting, Matawa Chiefs Council announced that it is “ready and willing” to enter into bilateral negotiations with Ontario, so long as the negotiations have a regional focus and are community-driven.
“We are not opposed to development, but we must be involved,” said Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias. “First Nation rights and inherent responsibilities to the land demand that we are full partners in discussions about exploration, ownership, participation in production and long-term sustainability of our environment, our communities and our futures.”
The meeting at Queen’s Park in Toronto took place less than one month since Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario’s new premier.
Wynne, the former minister of Aboriginal Affairs, has pledged to give the relationship with First Nations in Ontario improved prominence under her government. In a press release, Ontario said it recognizes the importance of collaborating with First Nations to get the Ring of Fire “right from the beginning.”
“I was honoured to meet with the Matawa chiefs and hear about their priorities and hopes. I look forward to ongoing work between my government and the chiefs and their communities to build a brighter future,” Wynne said.
Marten Falls Chief Eli Moonias noted that the meeting was the first time Matawa chiefs had met directly with the premier since 1975.
“To take time to meet with us right after being sworn in is a good indication of the premier’s intentions to work with us and build a positive relationship,” said Constance Lake Chief Roger Wesley.
Despite the chiefs’ positive response to the meeting, they did bring a list of concerns regarding the development to the premier.
Paramount were concerns about the potential for environmental damage related to mining activity in the Ring of Fire and the transportation corridors proposed to connect the mines to the southern highway system.
According to a Matawa press release, the chiefs told the premier that the people need appropriate information in their native languages to understand the potential risks and significant environmental impacts that could change their way of life and affect treaty and Aboriginal rights.
The chiefs also told the premier that a number of issues related to living conditions and social problems in the communities also have to be addressed as part of the agreements.
The list of issues included housing shortages, insufficient resources for education and health services and the economic well-being of Matawa communities.
“If the status quo doesn’t change between government and our First Nations, there will be no Ring of Fire,” said Peter Moonias.
Wynne responded that the province is committed to working with the communities on both a regional framework and with individual communities to deal with those socio-economic issues, as well as long-term environmental monitoring, training and employment opportunities and infrastructure development.