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THUNDER BAY, ON – Marten Falls First Nation is excited to announce that a decision on the Term of Reference (ToR) for the Marten Falls’ Community Access Road (MFCAR) Project (the Project) has been made and that the ToR has been approved. The decision was made by Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP) Minister Hon. David Piccini and it enables Marten Falls to start the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. The approval of the ToR is not only indicative of all the hard work Marten Falls has done for this community-led project, but it also indicates that the community is on a path towards economic empowerment. The Project has undertaken very significant consultation to date and looks forward to extending and starting the consultation process during the EA phase.
The process to consult First Nations and other stakeholders began in early 2018 and the ToR consultation phase started with the publication of the Notice of the Commencement of the ToR on March 6, 2019. For three years, the MFCAR Project Team conducted significant Indigenous consultation and engagement work. Three separate rounds of consultation and engagement on the MFCAR ToR were conducted, including publishing and consulting on a Draft ToR – a voluntary step MFFN chose to undertake – and two rounds of consultation on the Proposed ToR; by regulation only one public comment period for the Proposed ToR is required. Furthermore, the Project Team continued to respond to comments on the Project, despite the comment periods being officially closed.
Marten Falls is pleased with the extent of comments received because of these additional efforts. As of August 2021, the Project Team received and responded to over 1000 comments during the three rounds of consultation and engagement on the ToR. These comments were submitted from 12 government agencies, 15 First Nations and four interested parties. In addition to engaging with various agencies, communities and interested parties, the Project Team also offered a flexible and adaptive approach to consultation with First Nations who are potentially affected by the Project. The Project Team extended the timeline of its consultation and engagement efforts and offered First Nations communities an array of remote options and platforms to enable their participation in the consultation process. Although the project was able to consult communities for over a year before the start of the COVID pandemic, a number of these flexible options were introduced in response to the pandemic and related restrictions.
Chief Bruce Achneepineskum says that “the community is very glad to have spent the additional time to provide opportunities to those neighbouring communities who wanted to provide input. Our own community faced the same unprecedented restrictions and crises as other communities, so we understand the challenge. Through a flexible, remote approach with the added benefit of additional time, our community was able to provide significant input and those who wanted to consult and engage have had the same opportunity. We are very satisfied with both our unprecedented community-led effort and with the result of the decision. The real work of the EA begins now, and I encourage all our neighbouring communities to meet with us, in person or remotely, to consult on the EA. This is where the actual work of the assessment begins.”
Marten Falls is pleased with this major milestone for a few key reasons. First, the approval of the ToR brings MFCAR one step closer to being developed and serving the community and bringing development benefits to the region. Although the approval of the ToR does not guarantee that the road will be built, the community is hopeful that they are on the right path towards realizing their goals as they relate to MFCAR and wider community and regional development. Second, the ToR’s approval indicates that the community’s approach to consultation has been innovative and responsive. What this means is that not only can Marten Falls effectively carry out consultation and engagement initiatives with potentially affected or interested parties but can do so even in the face of adversity. The Project Team expects that this approach will support their ability to consult during the EA phase. For example, the Project will continue to develop new project videos that provide more insights to communities and the public looking to understand the project. Thirdly, and most importantly, the approval of the ToR demonstrates the dawn of a new era in which the development of major infrastructure like this road will be led by First Nations that want to work towards economic reconciliation. As the proponent of MFCAR, Marten Falls is empowered to lead the development of a major public infrastructure project in a way that aligns with the community’s fundamental values and vision for a sustainable future. Community-driven, public infrastructure projects like this one are unprecedented in the Canadian context and that gives the community a cause to celebrate.
The MFCAR Project is important for advancing the economic empowerment of Marten Falls and the overall socio-economic development of the region. The current EA is in the traditional territory of Marten Falls and the future development of infrastructure that will connect the Ring of Fire to MFCAR is planned jointly with Webequie.
Chief Achneepineskum says that “these projects will enable socio-economic development to reach unprecedented levels within this region. I think that for my community and for those neighbours who wish to participate, this development represents a path towards economic reconciliation. Without such development, there will be no economic opportunity or meaningful reconciliation. We are excited about this regional development because of what it means for our youth and our future. I see youth that completed training programs and they are just continuing to wait for development opportunities, and they have nothing right now. We are moving forward to create these significant and meaningful opportunities for them. I know we can share these opportunities with our neighbours because there is enough to go around. I look forward to a bright future for my community, the youth, and our neighbours. We are setting the foundation of vast prosperity for ourselves, our neighbours, and the region.”
In moving forward, the Project will continue to meaningfully engage with communities (and other interested parties) in the region and will work diligently to ensure that their concerns and aspirations are heard and adequately represented in the Project.
For further information: Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, Marten Falls First Nation, [email protected]