The journey of healing and reconciliation took another step in Constance Lake First Nation signing an historic electricity agreement with the Ontario government, but the chief says there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I like to think of it as the first bite of the apple,” said Chief Rick Allen. “It's part of a process and we have a lot of work to do yet.”
A news release stated the agreement between the province and Constance Lake First Nation, a partner in the Shekak-Nagagami hydro-electric project is a 19-megawatt facility located on the Shekak River, about 80 kilometres west of Hearst.
The First Nation has been a partner in the project for more than 20 years, but has never received benefits to date. Chief Allen said this deal will help provide long-term economic benefits for the First Nation.
“We are still hammering out financial and employment details, but it's a start,” he said. “When the government signed off on the permits back then, we never received any financial windfall that was promised,” he said.
“We went back to the table and started the process and worked on a framework we believed worked best for all of us. There was some conflict along the way, but I believe we've come up with a good deal.”
He said the deal will help with reconciliation because it shows the government is taking the concerns of the First Nations seriously. It will go a long way to help mend relationships and hopefully become the framework of future deals.
One benefit he would like to see from this agreement, besides the financial windfall, is more jobs going to the First Nations near the sites.
Right now there are only two jobs at the power project, plant operations and a maintenance person. Neither are based in Constance Lake.
“I'd like to see agreements like this applied to other industries, namely forestry, since it is still a major one up here,” he said.
“Many places where they harvest are traditional lands and we should be getting stumpage fees. I hope this kind of agreement gains traction.”
Allen added he'd like to see these kinds of partnerships happen across the country as it would ease tensions between bands, communities, companies and government departments.
This agreement is a result of discussions between the First Nation, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, a news release from the Government of Ontario stated.
It’s a major piece of a 2015 Political Accord being realized by working together with a community to achieve reconciliation. It is one of the many steps on Ontario's journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the release stated.
It reflects the government's commitment to work with indigenous partners to create a better future for everyone in the province.
"The province’s agreement with Constance Lake First Nation is an important example of the 2015 Political Accord between First Nations and the Government of Ontario coming to life,” said Glenn Thibeault, Minister of Energy.
“Together, over almost two years, we participated in an open, respectful and innovative process that will now result in long-term benefits and increased prosperity for Constance Lake First Nation."
The agreement was facilitated through the Ministry of Energy's Grievance Table process, a forum for |First Nations and the Ministry of Energy to work towards resolving specific energy infrastructure grievances.
Even though the agreement is favourable for the band, Allen stressed that this does not take away from the permanent changes the power project has brought to the environment.
“No amount of money is going to change what has happened to the Shekak River,” he said. Constance Lake First Nation is affiliated with the Matawa Tribal Council and is a member of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation.