“The only way to move ahead is to keep working on the same page.”
Rainy River District Municipal Association president Deb Ewald’s message rang clear last Wednesday as area First Nations and municipalities met to further cement their commitment to work together for the good of the district.
About 35 representatives from the RRDMA and the Fort Frances Chiefs’ Secretariat met at the Devlin Hall for a second local government networking session, which was hosted by the RRDMA.
“I think it went very well,” said Mayor Ewald. “It was a good dialogue, and I think everybody’s on the same page about where we want to go.
“We’ve identified a process and some of the issues that we want to tackle,” she added. “We’ve prioritized them, as well.
“I think it was very, very productive.”
Attendees agreed to appoint one representative from each community of both organizations to become a “working group” to address priorities.
“There traditionally hasn’t been a lot of co-operation between First Nations and the municipalities—there’s been hit-and-miss on certain things—but I think everybody recognizes now the importance of working together on a united front,” Mayor Ewald noted.
“We’re all facing the same problems,” she reasoned, noting she believes everyone there last Wednesday felt “this is the right time, this is the right place to do it.”
“Our history shows we haven’t worked too well in the past so we must formalize to ensure accountability,” Chief Jim Leonard of Rainy River First Nations said in a press release.
“Resource revenue-sharing means we require much more say, especially as this will affect future generations,” said Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown.
Emo Coun. Anthony Leek said the two groups want “to build a viable framework.”
Chapple Reeve Peter Van Heyst said that he “sees a will to work together,” a thought echoed by Chapple Coun. James Gibson, who affirmed that “we have mutual respect.”
One item of business will be the development of a formal accord between the First Nations and RRDMA.
Another issue that came up time and again was apprenticeship training for future mining jobs in Rainy River District.
“We’re losing so many young people in this district, we really want to retain good-paying jobs and whatnot to keep people here,” Mayor Ewald stressed.
The group also will be coming up with a plan in response to reforms to the forest tenure process.
Other concerns include the idling of the Resolute kraft mill and a paper machine in Fort Frances, replacing the district judge, bullying and violence, drug strategies, outshopping, tourism, and agriculture.
Chief Gary Allen of Nigigoonsiminikaaning proposed clustering the issues in four areas: political will, education and economics, social justice, and health.
Both groups will be sending out directives to their member councils to appoint a representative and an alternate so that the working group can convene in the next six weeks to get right to work.
Three First Nations currently not members of the chiefs’ secretariat—Big Island, Big Grassy, and Onigaming—also will be invited to ensure the district is fully represented.
It is “important to a get perspective from the entire district, which clearly includes First Nations,” said La Vallee Reeve Ross Donaldson.
Chief Allen vowed that the First Nations would “restructure their resolve and demonstrate their commitment by joining both the Chamber of Commerce and the Future Development Corp.”
Rainy River Coun. Gord Armstrong concluded the meeting by foreseeing “the building of paths to a stronger future.”
The session was facilitated by former Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff of Crupi Consulting Group.
“It was an honour to be asked to chair these meetings and see the progressive thinking unite the district,” said Boshcoff.
Last Wednesday’s meeting was a follow-up to the inaugural one held Oct. 16 at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre near Stratton.