Information on government programs is
available at every turn, but what are the tangible ways in which it
can be used to assist First Nations with sustainability?
The inaugural Lands and Economy Summit,
held in October in Serpent River First Nation, attempted to answer
that question. Citizens, government representatives and industry
gathered for three days to share ideas on how to encourage
sustainability amongst First Nations communities.
“A First Nation is like a little
country; we have rights and jurisdiction in a lot of different areas:
education, health, infrastructure, economic development,
environment—the list goes on and on,” Serpent River Chief Isadore
Day said. “What we’re talking about here today…is how can this
stuff work in the grand scheme of moving our communities forward.”
True collaborations between First
Nations, government and industry partners are required in order to
bring economic development and prosperity to those communities in a
positive way, Day said.
“We can see a web of
interconnectedness and interdependence on one another here, and this
is not just an information-based presentation,” he said. “We’re
now feeding into the discussion of where we go next.”
On hand were representatives from the
Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the Ontario Power
Authority, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the
Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment, and
the Union of Ontario Indians.
Serpent River has been active in
pursing and creating economic development opportunities. It’s
currently wrapping up a successful three-year project rehabilitating
the Huron Central Railway, and has now set its sights on developing
additional markets for the ballast it’s quarrying as part of that
The community has received $38,000 in
provincial funding to conduct a preliminary technical and financial
feasibility study for a solar farm, in partnership with
Ottawa-headquartered Jazz Solar, and plans are in the works for a
Centre for Sustainable Development, an economic development hub.
But Serpent River’s centrepiece is
its Environmental Review Panel, which would review any development
projects for their impact on the community before getting approval.
The community has been working with
Sudbury environmental engineering firm WESA over the last year
getting the structure in place.
Comprised of representatives of Serpent
River, various levels of government and other non-government
organizations, the panel would have oversight on reserve land and the
traditional territory of Serpent River, explained Lynn Moreau, an
environmental scientist with WESA.
“The mandate of the panel is to
establish shared jurisdictional responsibility for advancement,
review and development of natural resources proposals within the
traditional territory of Serpent River First Nation,” Moreau said.
The panel will hold 12 meetings a year
with a revolving structure that would allow new membership from the
community, using consensus to make decisions. Its objectives will be
to review economic development projects proposed by Serpent River
within the territory and provide a mechanism for objective scientific
review, Moreau said. Consultation with community members and
adjoining communities would take place throughout the process.
Under consideration will be a project’s
impact on the environment such as the water, earth, vegetation and
animal populations, as well as the culture, such as hunting, fishing
and trapping grounds, sacred sites and burial grounds. The panel will
also weigh the benefits of infrastructure, employment, the economy
and social impacts, Moreau said.
“Community consultation…will be
occurring in parallel with the ERP process and it will utilize the
existing consultation protocols that are in place and we will be
obligated also to externally consult for projects where Serpent River
is a proponent,” she said.
Proponents will have to pay an
application fee, which will allow screening to take place and provide
a security fee for projects that are approved. It will also ensure
funds are available if a site has to be remediated, Moreau said.
Terms of reference and a screening
report have been drafted and the orientation of committee members has
been completed. The next step is to clarify government involvement
and representation, she added. Ross Assinewe, a project officer with
the Serpent River Economic Development Corp., said he’d like to see
other communities adopt the ERP process.
“I support this initiative 100 per
cent but also believe we need to look outside the box and look at
getting all First Nations on board with this program,” Assinewe