It's being hailed as the start of a new era of consultation and cooperation in which Garden River First Nation can share in the prosperity anticipated with the establishment of the Port of Algoma.
Paul Syrette, Garden River First Nation chief, and Anshumali Dwivedi, Port of Algoma CEO, met in Garden River Saturday for the signing of the Reconciliation and Prosperity Accord.
"It sets the table for a partnership with our Port of Algoma friends," Syrette told reporters after Saturday's signing.
A separate accord will be signed between Port of Algoma and Batchewana First Nation soon.
"We hope to move a number of our resources, such as aggregates for example, through the port system…we want to take a position for some economic development opportunities for our First Nation," Syrette said.
Syrette said not only aggregates, but forestry, mining and other products from First Nations territories can be shipped through the port as a sharing of resources and source of revenue and prosperity for Garden River First Nation and other area First Nations territories for generations to come.
Syrette said it is too soon to tell how many jobs will be created for First Nations citizens through the port (such as construction jobs and skilled trades positions), but said "it's exciting for us."
"If there are opportunities for our members to be employed through the development of the port we certainly want to discuss that, that's certainly one of our goals," Syrette said.
Port of Algoma officials anticipate 1,350 full-time construction jobs will be created as the port is built, with approximately 250 permanent port jobs and 1,200 spin-off jobs.
Phase One of the Port of Algoma project wrapped up at the end of March (a study which included, among other items, initial consultations with First Nations, and those consultations will continue on a permanent basis).
Phase Two is currently underway.
Phase Three will involve the actual construction of the port facility over the next few years (between 2017 and 2020) at an estimated cost of $150 million, with funding of the project to be split between the private sector and senior levels of government.
For now, Syrette is satisfied Garden River First Nation is being effectively consulted by the private sector and levels of government, economically and environmentally.
"Very much so, these are exciting times for us."
"It really speaks to the commitment from all levels, especially with our friends at the port, they recognize our customs and commitment to the land as stewards of the land and our roles and responsibilities, to ensure that any type of work that's done that affects the environment, such as perhaps some dredging at the port, we want to know what that's all about and we mean that in a good way," Syrette said.
"We want to be at the table with them, we want to ensure the environment is taken care of, the water…we're impacted downstream, we're right here, we're neighbours, so the time is now to get to the table, and with the accord we've established that in such a good way."
"This agreement commits we will work together to ensure the next steps of this project preserve the environment while taking care of the local economy," Port of Algoma CEO Anshumali Dwivedi told reporters.
"There's nothing definitive in here (the accord) but it sets the tone…consultation will be an ongoing process."
It was Garden River First Nation which first approached Port of Algoma about the concept of an accord, designed to work with the private sector in ensuring environmental safety and economic benefit for First Nations territories as the port develops.
"There is talk of training and employment opportunities and it's early days to talk of how many positions will be created specifically for Garden River…but we will work with the community to ensure the right training is provided for their people, both at the port and any industries that will come up around us," Dwivedi said.
"Batchewana First Nation has an industrial park which could benefit and Garden River has a lot of aggregate and forestry resources (which could be shipped out through the port)."
"Today's signing of the accord is important in moving this project forward," Sault MP Terry Sheehan told SooToday.
"This government has said time and again businesses need to consult with First Nations and there are many regions in this country that are trying to figure out how to do that…I'm proud of what has taken place here today between the Port of Algoma and our First Nations people."
As for government funding of the port project's construction, Sheehan said "we'll entertain the ask, they (Port of Algoma) have not indicated to me any dollar amount but we'll analyze that when we get it."
Port of Algoma is a separate entity from Essar Steel Algoma, established in 2014 as a spin-off from the steel plant.
It is 99 percent owned by Essar Ports, a part of India's Essar Global Fund (the other one percent owned by the City of Sault Ste. Marie).
Because goods such as aggregate and salt are already being shipped from locations around the Great Lakes to Port of Algoma, Dwivedi told reporters he is confident Port of Algoma will succeed, despite Essar Steel Algoma's current woes.
A news release issued today by Garden River First Nation follows.
GARDEN RIVER FIRST NATION - On April 16, 2016 a historic signing took place between the Ojibways of the Garden River First Nation and the Port of Algoma.
The signing establishes a collaborative relationship on a pre-engagement process on proposed re-development on a state-of-the-art world-class facility.
This will expand Sault Ste. Marie’s (Bawating) existing role as an international gateway, which envisions protecting the environment and maintaining a robust economy.
The signing of the Accord Zhaawendamownin miinwaa Gichitwaawziwin Nsatamowin “Reconciliation and Prosperity Accord” is an expression of a modern day treaty relationship and commits the Port of Algoma and the Garden River First Nation to developing and maintaining relationships with one another that is built upon and demonstrates mutual respect.
Both the Garden River First Nation and the Port of Algoma share a common vision tosupport the best interests of the citizens of Bawating and surrounding area.
Both see a dramatic change in the industrial age of business and recognize that in order to make the hub of the Great Lakes a more sustainable and environmentally friendly place to do business, diversifying the economy and the inclusion of its original peoples is central to any development.
The Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850 contemplated the very notion of reciprocity.
Today, we will see the results of the real benefits of honouring and respecting the Treaty. Modernizing our relationship and ensuring sustainable development and conservation practices are central to having a future for our children in an ecology that has been the lifeline for many people.
“The Accord is in the spirit of healing and reconciliation and is indeed a major milestone between our two organizations, we have worked hard to bridge our differences and build a strong unified approach and economy for the future,” said Chief Paul Syrette.
Mr. Anshumali Dwivedi, CEO of the Port of Algoma stated: “We are very happy to take this project forward in a responsible and respectful manner. The signing of the Accord establishes a collaborative process of working together in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding. The Port project will help build a strong, diversified regional economy and an inclusive future for generations to come.”
Both Garden River First Nation and the Port of Algoma want to ensure that the next seven generations will enjoy clean waters, lands, and air, and the benefits will be shared will all people including the Anishinaabe.
Today’s signing was witnessed by MP Terry Sheehan and Ontario Regional Chief, Isadore Day. Other notable guests include Don Mitchell, Chair of the SSMEDC, Tom Dodds, CEO of the SSMEDC, Jerry Dolcetti, Commissioner of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Dr. Eddie Benton Banaise, Grand Chief, Deputy Grand Chief Glen Hare, Anishinabek Nation and Chief Reginald Nigonabe, Chair, NSTC.
This event brings positivity to our community in a time of economic uncertainty.
The Port project is about refurbishing and modernizing something that has been there for decades and diversifying our economy to create new jobs and opportunities.
Today marks the beginning of a new relationship and an Accord that can become the blueprint for building healthy relationships and a better tomorrow.