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Marathon and Biitigong Nishnaabeg make preparations ahead of mine approval

North Shore Municipality, First Nation plan and build for an influx of workers and families
Development of housing lots in Biitigong Nishnaabeg in-progress. (Photo by Austin Campbell/SNN Newswatch)

While investors and residents await the verdict on Generation Mining's closure plan for their proposed site outside of Marathon, the township along with Biitigong Nishnaabeg First Nation are pushing through for an increase in housing and enhanced infrastructure in anticipation of a population boom.

The real concern is the sheer number of labourers and transient workers that will soon be moving to the area, including a 1,000-person camp that will be situated on a private property between Marathon and Biitigong Nishnaabeg.

Members of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg participated in a panel process where they spent considerable time examining and preparing for the potential impact the new mine will have on the area.

“The community was active in the panel process and identified some of the socioeconomic [impacts] that we anticipated with respect if the mine had received it’s approval,” said Chief Executive Officer Debi Boucher.

“Some of the areas we looked at were, obviously, employment — we have about 1,200 members, about 500 live in-community — and we knew that there was an opportunity for our members to come back for employment, but we didn’t have the facilities to be able to accommodate homes.”

“There’s a number of things that have to happen at a foundational level, from the geo-tech [study] to the land-use planning, subdivision development, and all of that has to lineup. But we have to line it up so that when the mine is operational, we are ready for our members to come back and reside here.”

“The other things we looked at was what are going to be the impacts of the additional people that are going to be coming back into the area, in general. What are the impacts on our youth, on our women, and our men? We wanted to make sure that we had programs and places for them as well, so that any of the negative associations of mines — with developments, operations, and construction — were factored in.”

Boucher said that the area hasn’t really seen an influx of people comparable to what is anticipated with Generation PGM since the opening of the Barrick Hemlo mining operation.

The stigma surrounding transient workers and the potential for social conflict is not lost on the community of Biitigong Nishnaabeg.

Boucher wants to prepare residents by raising awareness and providing them with programs and resources that will keep everyone safe, and make help readily accessible.

For example, they are currently in the application process for a nine-bedroom shelter that would act as a safe space for women and children.

“We’re still waiting to see if we’re going to be successful in getting that project started and that would potentially start for next year,” said Boucher.

Boucher acknowledged a correlation between an increase in people in the area and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

“In the spring, we’re planning on doing a safety awareness week,” said Boucher, “and, with that, we’re going to do sessions or presentations on human trafficking, we’re offering a women and girls self-defense course, and… a presentation on missing and murdered indigenous women… we want to create that awareness but also give them the tools to be aware of their surroundings and if you are confronted with any danger… we’re going to give you the tools to be able to get out of that environment.”

The administration at Biitigong Nishnaabeg is focused on creating safe spaces.

“We’re also looking at social services buildings… the new school was another component of that because as parents and families move back we want to make sure we have the right space for the children to be able to learn… in addition to that, we wanted to make sure that we have recreational space for people, we wanted to make sure that they had things to do so we looked at the rink, we looked at the lifestyle centre — they were all components of building a community that would give our members the opportunity to do anything, from recreation, to learning, to social services, to getting the help that they need — and that was kind of a planning phase. So, that’s what we’re actively working on right now… activities that support the mine and the potential growth opportunities that are here for us but also to help our current members as well so that they have the proper facilities.”

Boucher noted that most of the funding for all of the developments in Biitigong Nishnaabeg is coming from government programs, including money from Indigenous Services, the Impact Assessment Agency), FedNor, Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, and some of their own source revenues that the community has reinvested in itself.

The community has also created their own mining corporation which is partnering with Generation PGM to identify economic opportunities and activities that will benefit them.

The ballpark total for all of the projects going on in Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation falls in the $105-million range.

That includes the new community school, water treatment expansion, lifestyle centre, cultural centre, a covered outdoor rink, and six new housing lots.

There are also 10 housing lots that community is looking at for development if funding is approved.

With all of that in mind, Boucher further mentioned that the community has drafted a strategic plan.

“The strategic plan will set our direction for the next three to five years,” said Boucher. “It’s our role now as managers and leaders to look at what the feedback was from our members and say, ‘OK, what do they need to have a good life in our community?’”

All of this activity in the region has pushed the nearby town of Marathon into action as well.

A subdivision, to be situated at the top of Penn Lake Heights, aims to address housing concerns when Generation’s mine opens and the influx happens.

“The 105-lot subdivision is something we looked at for Generation, specifically,” said Mayor Rick Dumas. “And Barrick has got some needs as well.”

Dumas mentioned that while Barrick does currently have a camp housing some of their transient employees and professionals.

“Some will want to move here, some will not,” said Dumas. “So, that’s what they’re looking at now – how does that look for their employees? But Generation is in the same scenario. They’re looking at a camp, we know that, we’ve had some great conversations with them over the years, we’re just waiting for that final [decision]. They submitted their final closure plan that [Biitigong Nishnaabeg] supported… it has a 45 day return cycle for comments and then… once that comes out, we’re hoping that they’ll get that final permit for cutting the trees, start cutting the trees, and getting that mine developed for the spring of 2024.”

Between the action at Biitigong Nishnaabeg First Nation and in Marathon, the region is looking well-prepared for whatever awaits.  

- SNNewsWatch