First Nations delighted to have Bob Rae negotiating for them on mining development
- First Nations delighted to have Bob Rae negotiating for them on mining development
POSTMEDIA NEWSJUNE 19, 2013
Photograph by: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/Files, Postmedia NewsThe negotiating power of northern Ontario's First Nations just got a huge boost.
When former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae announced that he was resigning as a member of Parliament, he said it was in order to focus on his other job: chief negotiator for the Matawa First Nations communities as they lock swords with the Ontario government over resource development on lands traditionally used by aboriginal people.
"It's good news for us," said Allan Towegishig, chief of the Long Lake #58 First Nation.
"If he's going to be a part-time parliamentarian he'll have lots of work over there and with him resigning he'll have more time to focus on our issues."
Rae officially took the new position in May and has spent the last few weeks juggling both jobs. But in an official statement released Wednesday, he said "the full scope of the negotiator's job is no longer compatible" with his MP responsibilities.
With a single job now as a negotiator, Rae represents nine First Nation groups in discussions with the Ontario government about ongoing mineral development in the resource-rich area known as the "Ring of Fire," about 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. Two proposed projects - the Black Thor chromite mine being undertaken by Cliffs Natural Resources, and the Eagle's Nest nickel and copper mine being undertaken by Noront resources - are in the early stages of development. That means now is the time for First Nations groups to try to influence how the projects proceed.
"We want the maximum amount out of these projects," said Sonny Gagnon, chief of the Aroland First Nations. "We've seen our trees go by our front yard, hundreds of truckloads a day leaving and nothing ever coming back. We want to be partners, owners and to develop this."
He said the chiefs of the nine Matawa First Nations who will be affected by the development have been talking with government and industry for some time but that it has been difficult to present a unified voice.
"If you have nine communities at one table at a given time with the industry and province, it's a little too hectic," he said.
In January, the chiefs decided a politically savvy person was needed to represent their interests. They brainstormed a list of potential champions including former prime minister Paul Martin and former Newfoundland premiers Danny Williams and Brian Tobin. Rae was ultimately chosen because of his political experience and his willingness to take on the task.
"Being a premier, being a politician, knowing the ins and outs of the judicial system, we figured he was the right person to do the job," Gagnon said.
Rae has been visiting the First Nations communities to meet hear their concerns and expectations. Gagnon said Rae will use this information to develop a strategy for bargaining with industry and government to ensure First Nations communities receive revenue from the projects and that they have a say in environmental assessments.
"I need to know the impacts of the development: what effect will this have on my trees, my rights to fish and gather food?" said Gagnon, who added that his community has so far been unimpressed that environmental-assessment open houses are only happening in cities such as Thunder Bay and Sudbury.
"If you're going to develop the land in my backyard, you better come and talk to the First Nations so that we understand in our language, so that our people have the certainty that is required to move forward," he said. Rae may be able to make that happen.
Though the date of Rae's resignation from Parliament has not yet been confirmed, Gagnon said he is looking forward to working more with the former MP.
"He's putting down his job as an MP to come work for me. There's no doubt Bob's committed."
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