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Webequie First Nation Focused on responsible development & becoming the Aviation Hub for the Ring of Fire

Dec 15, 2022

As stakeholders across the Ring of Fire region continue to evaluate their role in the multi-billion-dollar resource base, one First Nation has already put a vision in motion.


Chief Cornelius Wabasse
Cornelius Wabasse is the Chief of the Webequie First Nation, a remote community located in the Ring of Fire.

Chief Cornelius Wabasse was honored to be speaking as part of the CEN CAN Expo, Ring of Fire Critical Minerals and the Central Role of Two Indigenous Communities Conference held in Thunder Bay this past September. The Chief spoke on how his community is playing a central role in the building of the Northern Road Link to the Ring of Fire. He said there is great potential in the Ring of Fire.
The Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation’s community aspirations have been kickstarted by an indigenous-led major study of an economic development road from the airport to the proposed mine site development. The project is called the Webequie Supply Road.
Marten Falls started their own road called the Community Access Road. Together, both communities are working as co-proponents on the third road called the Northern Road Link, which, when working together with other First Nation Communities, Chief Wabasse says will deliver prosperity for their communities. The Webequie Supply Road is an extension of another road for the airport development plan, which is still in progress.
Chief Wabasse told the conference guests, “We look forward to talking with funders about the expansion of our airport, and to become an aviation hub for the Ring of Fire. We do have that aspiration as well to become the hub of the Ring of Fire. In terms of aviation, I think it’s important to share why we are leading an Environmental Impact Assessment. So, it’s very important that everybody knows where we stand, and how we want to move forward and work with our partners.”
“Firstly, we wanted our indigenous principles to be part of any EIA study in the Ring of Fire area. And we will do that through our three-tier model. The three-tier model was developed from our community, elders, along with our members. It’s a plan on how we want to prosper in being part of the development in our area.”
The three-tier system consists of the Reservation, the Protected Area, and the Mutual Benefit Area.
“Secondly, the First Nations will also want to generate information about the environmental impacts in order to make informed decisions for their people. There is a need for more information to have that informed decision so that all involved can make a better decision moving forward. By leading the environmental and impact assessments, we can define the scope of the studies properly to ensure we exercise our responsibility as environmental stewards of our homelands. This is very important that we understand the processes that we work together, so that we understand how we can maintain our homelands.”
Thirdly, Chief Wabasse said, as indigenous proponents, they can properly participate in the studies that are underway. “We have to be involved in that - and benefit from capacity building, field programs, and indigenous knowledge studies. Indigenous knowledge studies are very important to us. And it’s very important for all parties to understand what we’re talking about, when we say indigenous knowledge. Those are some of the knowledge that we have, that we need to maintain, so that we can continue our culture moving forward.”
The Chief said that Webequie wants to realistically identify the opportunities and pathways for training, employment and businesses for their community members and their First Nation neighbors and for future partners, as part of an indigenous-led environmental and impact assessment.
“Lastly, we hear a lot about UNDRIP, or the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many people, they focus on prior informed consent. To us, there is no better way that we know of to freely generate information prior to any project starting in our area. So, as an indigenous nation, to lead the environmental assessment, we can directly generate information to make informed decisions.”
Chief Wabasse says it’s important that everyone understand that UNDRIP is a document that everyone needs to understand in order to better move forward. “While a lot of people don’t look at what UNDRIP is, and the other clauses such as indigenous nations have the right to self-determination and the right to choose our own type of development. That is what we are doing.”
“We are determining through the studies, what type of sustainable development we want as indigenous nations and what type of shared decision-making to our homelands and with our industry and government partners, that is what we have been working on in the past several years.”
Wabasse says “it has been hard work, it is critical work and most important, it is a collective work. We have to work together to move forward to make things more sustainable. Part of that collective work is the membership that we have formed. We have to continue to inform, engage and consult our members on a regular basis as well as other surrounding communities. For our indigenous neighbors who either have the same views or have different views, we are open to hearing other people, we’re open to engaging with other people and we are open to input and feedback on real projects. We are open to sharing opportunities as well. We are very open to discussion and meetings and this is how we will move forward.”
The Chief said he is thankful for the several First Nations who have provided technical submissions to the current EIA and Terms of Reference for the Northern Road Link. He looks forward to continued information sharing on the work that they are doing.
They are working with companies in exploration, and directives from elders in principle to begin to quantify what sustainable development is to that community moving forward.
“Development has to be done in a sustainable manner, and sound environment for the protection of their lands and they have to have a protection policy in place,” said Chief Wabasse.
Chief Wabasse closed by saying, “Our way of life has changed, and we have to learn to adapt as we move forward into the new future. But we have to maintain our values and culture and our way of life as we move forward. The land and water stewardship are very important. We are encouraged to pursue education with First Nations, Industry and Government. We also have our inherent rights, that we will follow. And we hope that our inherent rights will be recognized, as we work together, moving forward, with the potential of the Ring of Fire.
The Chief says Webequie First Nation will protect its homelands with a robust and rigorous environmental impact assessment. “Why? Because it’s trying to improve the quality of life for our members, and we see value in leading and participating in the Ring of Fire development. Webequie First Nation is exercising its rights to self-determination. And lastly, Webequie First Nation wants to provide opportunities to its youth members and to the future members in the generations to come.”


For this article and more visit the digital copy of: The Northern Ontario Mining Report

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