Four First Nations near the Manitoba-Ontario border say they are prepared to give “conditional consent” for the first phase of the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kenora and the border.
“We can get so much done when we agree to work together,” Niisaachewan Chief Lorraine Cobiness said at a news conference Tuesday.
She was joined by the leaders of Wauzhushk Onigum, Shoal Lake 40 and Washagamis Bay First Nations, which call themselves the Niiwin Wendaanimok (Four Winds Group).
Following months of discussions with provincial transportation officials, the group has agreed to allow Ontario to enter its territory under its guidance to start the first phase of the project; in return, the provincial government is expected to work collaboratively with the Anshinaabeg and ensure the communities benefit from the project.
That would amount to $77 million in direct and indirect economic activity for the four bands, and a safer drive for travellers.
“I think we all have had… not the greatest experience on that highway at most times,” Cobiness said.
“There is a definite desire to make sure that the highway is safe for everybody to travel on.”
The partnership will also help advance reconciliation, said Wauzhushk Onigum Chief Chris Skead.
“The past relationship has been genocidal for the Anishinaabeg. More recently it hasn’t worked for anyone. But now these discussions have been guided by Manito Aki Inaakonigaawin, the sacred law of the Earth,” Skead wrote.
“We have been guided by the principles of Weweni (Take our time), Bebeka (doing it right), Biiziindun (listen), and Kegotachken (do not be afraid).”
The chief of Shoal Lake 40 said the journey thus far has included a harmonized process for understanding environmental impacts and mitigation measures. The creation of an Anishinaabe Guardians Program and opportunities that will establish the foundation of the nations’ economies are also part of the project, said Chief Vernon Redsky.
The first phase of the twinning, which will involve connecting Highway 1 from the Manitoba-Ontario border to Highway 673, is expected to start this fall. The next two phases, which the nations have yet to consent to, would involve the section from Highway 673 to Kenora. There will be a sacred ceremony at the end of the month, if the Ontario government agrees to the partnership’s conditions.
— with files from Dylan Robertson