Peter Collins’ role may have changed in the last several weeks, but it’s clear his priorities and vision for Northern Ontario have not.
As CEO of the new Chi Mino Ozhitoowin (CMO), the former Fort William First Nation chief continues to promote economic development and opportunities for Indigenous communities and their members.
With the Hydro One announcement on Sept. 22 that it will partner 50-50 with Indigenous groups on all major energy projects, Collins is positioned to help usher in that new economic era for Indigenous communities in northwestern Ontario and beyond.
“This is so important; it’s so groundbreaking for us and our communities that Hydro One has finally taken this step,” Collins said, adding that he told the chiefs at the meeting that he felt they all had a role in making Hydro One “think outside of their box.”
“It’s really precedent-setting for us that a company of this magnitude would look at our perspective finally.”
The new Hydro One-Indigenous equity partnership model includes the Waasigan Transmission Project that will build power lines between Shuniah, outside of Thunder Bay, and Dryden, via Atikokan.
That precedent-setting agreement with Gwayakocchigewin Limited Partnership (GLP) announced in May may have been the blueprint – and catalyst – for the new province-wide partnership model.
GLP itself is a partnership between eight area First Nations: Eagle Lake First Nation, Fort William First Nation, Seine River First Nation, Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, Lac La Croix First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation, and Ojibway Nation of Saugeen.
The partnership then created CMO as a separate services company to oversee and support the yet-to-be-named contractor for the Waasigan project. CMO will also provide other supports, including facilitate training for Indigenous workers who want to work on the project.
Collins stepped in as CEO of CMO on September 19, the day after officially stepping down as chief of Fort William First Nation.
His move away from politics is not unexpected.
Collins announced during the last election that this would be his last term. He said that after being chief for multiple terms and first serving as councillor in 1986, he felt it was time to move on from politics.
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Still, the timing came as a surprise to many.
Collins said that when the opportunity at CMO came up, he couldn’t refuse even though it meant an early exit from his term. The decision was at least in part due to the fact that being chief does not offer a pension – something Collins sees as a hindrance to attracting good people to Indigenous leadership positions.
“That’s an issue that Canada and the chiefs need to deal with,” he said. “When I look at long-term serving chiefs... they leave with nothing. The challenge for me when I knew I would be leaving at the end of this term was that I would have no income. I had to take advantage of the opportunity at hand.”
That didn’t detract from his feelings about his tenure overall.
“I enjoyed every minute,” Collins said. “I tried to open the door for new voices, and hopefully that works well for the community of Fort William.”
He said that his two greatest accomplishments under his leadership were partnering with Resolute Forest Products to bring a sawmill to the community and settling the bulk of Fort William First Nation’s claims.
Collins was also a strong proponent for economic development and generating opportunities for youth.
“I laid down a good foundation for a brighter future for our communities. We accomplished lots over the years, but at the same time, we struggled at a few things. There is still work to be done on them,” said Collins, who cited addictions and the drug epidemic as one the ongoing struggles.
Collins will still be building economic development, just in a different capacity.
“My mandate has always been to build economic development in the community of Fort William... and northwestern Ontario in its entirety. I’m so honoured to be selected to take on this role. I’ll have to change my mindset from being a politician to a CEO, but I usually adapt pretty quickly. I’ve really hit the ground running my first week as CEO of CMO.”
Collins said projects and agreements like Waasigan are a step in the right direction to reconciliation.
“It will give our young people the opportunity, the hope, and aspiration... so they can have a good income for themselves for their families and their future,” he said.