FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION — Gwayakocchigewin means “making decisions the right way,” said Tom Johnson, president of the Gwayakocchigenwin Limited Partnership.
All in attendance at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre on May 4 felt this expression as eight partnering First Nations signed a historic 50/50 agreement with Hydro One to advance the Wassigan Transmission Line Project.
"We must seek out partnerships where we participate as equal partners to support our communities and our members. The terms of the partnership signed with Hydro One today is a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved and demonstrates the right approach to Indigenous Participation in infrastructure development," said Johnson.
"First Nations working together and in a true partnership with Hydro One will help us secure a brighter future for our people."
The project involves constructing a new, double-circuit, 230-kilovolt transmission line between the Municipality of Shuniah and Atikokan, and a new, single-circuit 230-kilovolt line between Atikokan and Dryden. Together, they will add 350 megawatts of power to the region.
Phase one of the project is already underway, with environmental assessments beginning within the regions. The project is expected to be complete by 2025.
Gwayakocchigewin Limited Partnership represents the following First Nations communities:
- 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
- Ojibway Nation of Saugeen
"As Canadians, we have a responsibility to reflect on our past and take meaningful action towards Reconciliation with Indigenous communities," said Mark Poweska, president and chief executive officer of Hydro One.
"Indigenous communities have historically borne the impacts of infrastructure development in their territories without seeing the benefits. This announcement is a progressive step to increase opportunities for First Nations communities to participate with industry and with Hydro One as we collectively build the electricity grid of the future."
The Gwayakocchigenwin Limited Partnership’s goal is to ensure that First Nations have fair economic participation in constructing the Wassigan Transmission Line while also establishing an agreement that Hydro One will protect the land, waters, and cultural values of the community that potentially have been affected by the Wassigan Project.
Since the Wassigan Transmission Line passes through eight First Nation communities, environmental protection must be put in place to make sure that any contamination of the land, water, and surrounding communities is strongly mitigated, according to the company.
“We’ve engaged with the Indigenous communities as partners to provide input as stewards of the land. That is very significant that we have that input as part of that process,” said Jason Fitzsimmons, chief corporate affairs and customer care officer for Hydro One.
“We are a company that has strong commitments on environment and social issues, so the engagement we do will be comprehensive with our stakeholders and our Indigenous partners.”
As investors in Wassigan projects, these communities will share in 50 per cent of the profit the transmission line will create. The 50/50 agreement between Gwayakocchigewin Limit Partnership and Hydro One will also ensure prosperity for the First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario, with an estimated $760 million to be received once the project is completed.
“Fifty per cent ownership with a conglomerate like Hydro One is a magnificent milestone for our communities that will make sure economic resources are shared,” Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins said.
“I want to congratulate Hydro One for their commitment, for thinking outside the box and for listening to us as First Nations people and listening to our strong desire to be a part of this bill.”