Local First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with mining exploration company Rainy River Resources on Thursday afternoon to mark a mutually-beneficial relationship between them.
“I see this as something that we need in the district, and continue to make it happen,” Rainy River First Nations Chief Jim Leonard said at the signing ceremony, which took place at the company’s gold exploration project site in Blackhawk.
“And I hope that everyone can benefit, not only the First Nations’ people but people from the surrounding area.
“We’re going to need a lot of help, and we’re here and we’re neighbours,” he added.
Representatives from Rainy River Resources and several First Nations that are members of the Fort Frances Chiefs Secretariat were on hand to sign the MOU.
As part of it, the company has agreed to inform the First Nations of its exploration proposals and timetables, and conduct all exploration activities in an environmentally-responsible manner.
Employment opportunities and the chance to bid on contracts also were highlighted in the memorandum, as well as plans to hire a full-time “First Nation Engagement Specialist,” who will serve as a liaison between the company and First Nations.
Rainy River Resources also will begin working with the First Nations to develop and implement an “Impact and Benefits Agreement.”
Thursday’s signing ceremony began with elder Willie Wilson saying a blessing and some opening remarks.
“From what I know about the document, it’s going to provide opportunities not only for our First Nations’ people but for people in the whole district,” noted Wilson.
“And I think that there’s opportunity here that should come as a result of this.
“We started off with some fool’s gold first,” he remarked. “Eventually that’s going to become real, I hope.”
“To the chiefs and the communities of the secretariat, the seven areas that we could have some potential impact, too, we’re really looking forward to this, working with you,” said Raymond Threlkeld, president and CEO of Rainy River Resources Ltd.
He also thanked the local staff of the company for their efforts to make the MOU come together.
“And this is just a start, this memorandum of understanding,” Threlkeld stressed. “This memorandum of understanding will lead us farther on to [a] true impact benefits agreement that will further define our relationship.
“We’ve come off with a good start,” he continued. “Our relationship with Chief Leonard has been excellent, and we’ve had very frank and not-so-easy discussions at times.
“But I think our friendship [means] we’re able to sit down and speak to each other very openly.”
“I think that we hope that in the end that we see this really improve the community and all the communities,” echoed Chapple Coun. Rick Neilson, who spoke on behalf of the township at Thursday’s ceremony, stressing the importance of making sure everyone has an opportunity to be involved and benefit from the project.
“I think that it’s really good that First Nations [are] involved in this way,” Coun. Neilson added.
“Their culture has led them to the point of really viewing the environment as where we come from, and I think that that is a very, very important element to have in this endeavour,” he stressed.
“The other point I would like to make, from the Municipality of Chapple, is that we want to be informed and want to know what’s happening,” Coun. Neilson said.
“We want to know how we can make it happen better and how we can plan to make things work for this endeavour.”
As part of the pending “Impact and Benefits Agreement,” which will be developed by Rainy River Resources and the involved First Nations, provisions to be developed include:
•the relationship between the parties and the impact and benefits of the First Nations’ communities and their traditional lands;
•a process which sets out the requirements of notice and consultation during the development, construction, and operation phase of the Rainy River Resources project;
•a process that will enable the First Nations’ communities to access information to satisfy themselves that the mining activities which are carried out within their traditional territory comply with relevant federal and provincial legislation, including compliance with environmental legislation;
•First Nations’ rights with respect to access to, and maintenance of, their traditional territory without adversely affecting the company’s continuing operations;
•the identification by the First Nations of registered traplines and “sensitive sites” having significance to the communities or individuals within the communities, so that the company can avoid and protect such sites to the extent reasonably possible;
•the identification of the training needs and human resources capacity of the First Nations’ communities, including employment, business development, investment opportunities, and other related enterprises both parties may see fit to include;
•the identification of potential sources and responsible agencies to work towards the establishment of a social-economic fund for the use and benefit of the First Nations’ communities, with funding to be related, in a predictable and reasonable way, to the economic scale and value of the exploitation of the resource identified in the area designated as the Rainy River project area; and
•a process for resolving disputes or disagreements arising out of the terms and provisions of the interpretation of the IBA.
The seven First Nations’ communities that signed the MOU included Rainy River First Nations, Naicatchewenin, Mitaanjigamiing (formerly Stanjikoming), Couchiching, Nigigoonsiminikaaning (formerly Nicickousemenecaning), Lac La Croix, and Seine River.