Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle said Wednesday was an historic day for the province and Matawa.
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The table is now set for Ring of Fire negotiations to begin between Matawa and the province.
A closed-door signing ceremony Wednesday with the nine Matawa chiefs, representing First Nations communities closest to the mineral-rich area, and Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle makes a much-discussed regional framework agreement official.
Bob Rae, lead negotiator for Matawa, and the province's Frank Iacobucci began discussions more than nine months ago to hammer out the framework, which lays out what will be discussed during negotiations, expected to begin in earnest sometime this summer. Gravelle called it an historic day and a crucial step that will now see the process move into the next phase.
"This ensures that the First Nations will truly benefit from the Ring of Fire development," he said. "It will set up the principles and the objectives that will form the discussion."
While the agreement itself wasn't made public, objectives include revenue sharing, infrastructure and enhanced environmental monitoring.
Marten Falls chief Eli Moonias said Matawa said the priorities have been the same all along. The agreement, which will now be taken back to Matawa communities by the chiefs, continues the process to ensure First Nations have direct involvement in Ring of Fire development.
"Which means we'll be looking to be involved as partners in the development," he said.
Long-term he sees the day when his community members are working in mines, running businesses to support the project.
The communities want to be fully aware of the environmental impacts on everything from infrastructure development to the mining itself to make the right decisions. It's the reason not so long ago Moonias and others blockaded development.
First Nations needed to be accommodated and this agreement is part of that process he said. It's a new kind of intention and accommodation. And it's about the future of his and other Matawa communities.
"This is an opportunity to get involved in the development and have our people be employed, be trained and employed and get ambition into the communities, instead of not seeing the future the way it's been for a long time," Moonias said.
Gravelle described the meeting, held at the DaVinci Centre, as one very focused on the future for First Nations.
"Emotions were very high in the best sense of the word and the warmth in the room was pretty wonderful as well," he said.
An official celebration for the signing is expected early next month.
Meanwhile Noront Resources, the only company currently in the Ring of Fire with a completed Environmental Assessment before the provincial and federal government for its Eagle's Nest Project, said it was pleased to hear the news.
"We are encouraged that a framework agreement has now been signed by the Matawa First Nations and the Province of Ontario," Noront President and CEO Alan Coutts said in a media release "We've always felt that having the right conversations is essential for progress in the Ring of Fire, and we expect that development will now be able move ahead in a timely fashion."
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