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ONR takeover still being pursued

By Len Gillis

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Lawrence Martin says the chiefs and Elders who gathered in Kashechewan last week agreed to the idea of taking over Ontario Northland Railway and extending rail service to the Ring of Fire.

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Lawrence Martin says the chiefs and Elders who gathered in Kashechewan last week agreed to the idea of taking over Ontario Northland Railway and extending rail service to the Ring of Fire.

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Lawrence Martin says the chiefs and Elders who gathered in Kashechewan last week agreed to the idea of taking over Ontario Northland Railway and extending rail service to the Ring of Fire.

Along with that, Martin said he wants Timmins to be included in the venture with that city becoming the site of a new chromite ore refinery.

Timmins Mayor Steve Black said he supports the Mushkegowuk initiative.

The idea, which was first revealed by Sun Media two week ago, seeks to expand the Ontario Northland rail link north beyond Moosonee, to include other communities on the James Bay coast and on to the Ring of Fire.

Martin, who is meeting with government officials in Toronto this week, said he was more than pleased with the fact that the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council annual general assembly, held in Kashechewan last week, gave full support to the railway expansion idea.

“Yes, it went very well,” Martin said. “What we did first is show the people all the activity in and around the area, all the mining claims in our territories, some of the exploration work that is going on now and the expansion of De Beers and, of course, all this talk of the Ring of Fire.”

Martin said it was important for the member communities to each have a say in the idea. This includes the Moose Cree First Nation, Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Attawapiskat, Weenusk, Taykwa Tagamou, the Chapleau Cree and the Missanabie Cree.

“Only the elders spoke. It was amazing,” said Martin. “The elders spoke, each one from each community. And what they said was, 'We understand there is a change that is going on with our people. And our young people are demanding a change with how we do business. But we must always honour the land and the environment and so we give you this permission to proceed and continue talking with the proponents, with the industry, with the government because we want to get our young people to move forward.'”

Martin said it was an important show of respect and solidarity from the First Nations of Mushkegowuk.

“It was amazing. The chiefs supported what the Elders said. And we passed a motion for me to be proceed and to be really cautious in protecting the environment, the culture and the language and who we are as Mushkegowuk people.”

The Ring of Fire refers to a massive deposit of chromite located in the McFauld’s Lake and Webequie area, about 600 kilometres northwest of Timmins. Chromite is an important mineral element in manufacturing stainless steel. The Ring of Fire area could become the largest chromite mining site in North America, a venture measured in the tens of billions of dollars.

Martin said he is not at all discouraged by the fact the province has said Ontario’s Northland’s rail division is not for sale.

“So now what that tells me is continue discussions with the province, because as you know the province has pulled the sale off the table,” said Martin.

He said that in the past week, he had a brief discussion with ONTC chief operating officer Corina Moore and they have agreed to have a formal meeting sometime in the next week or so, to discuss options about how Mushkegowuk can access Ontario Northland.

“So what does that mean, when the province pulls the sale off the block? What does it mean? Are they interested in talking to Mushkegowuk directly? Again, it’s just my impression. But that’s where I want to go with it, to explore that.”

He said even if Ontario Northland is not sold, that does not mean that Mushkegowuk cannot expand rail service beyond Moosonee, which is the northern terminus of the ONR. He said Mushkegowuk is ready to work with TGR Rail Canada Ltd. to build a new rail link, connecting coastal communities and then to the Ring of Fire mining project.

“So what if the province kept the rail system up to Moosonee? And what if we went into a partnership with TGR Rail and provide the extension from Moosonee to the Ring of Fire? That option is still open,” said Martin.

He said community leaders would welcome a new rail link as a means to bring in cheaper housing supplies, cheaper foodstuffs as well as a direct link for people wanting to travel south for things like education and health appointments.

“It would be interesting to see what would the commitment be from the province if we were to explore that scenario. They would still need to upgrade the rail system from Moosonee to North Bay, or Moosonee to wherever we would take the ore to. We’re talking about a bigger rail system, using 135-pound rail,” he explained, adding that heavier rail would be needed to transport chromite ore.

Martin admitted the idea is still in the preliminary stages and much work is required to get it moving toward reality, with things like environmental assessments and the permitting process with all the various government departments.

“Well definitely that’s what I am doing here in Toronto,” he told Sun Media Wednesday over the phone. “So we will be looking for money to be able to do that environmental kind of research. Again, we need to look at the selection of a particular route and where it would go."

Martin said Mushkegowuk is not sitting still on the idea. Already, he said, a meeting has been set up to take place in Timmins at the end of this month with the Matawa Tribal Council, which is the group of First Nations claiming ownership and jurisdiction of the Ring of Fire territory.

He said at that meeting, they will discuss the partnership ideas with the Matawa council and get their input on bringing a new rail link into their area.

“Everything we are talking about here, we have to develop into a solid business plan. We are just beginning,” said Martin.

He said Mushkegowuk will also be seeking formal support from the City of Timmins based on the fact there is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was signed three years ago this month, between Timmins and Mushkegowuk, pledging mutual support in business ventures.

Martin said he believes that success for Mushkegowuk means success for Timmins.

“We met with Mayor Black when we were in Timmins a couple of weeks ago and outlined some projects that we can work on together. And one of them is this project here so as we move along with getting the TGR Rail option finalized with the ONR, Timmins is part of that picture,” said the grand chief.

“We will be able to look at Kidd Creek closing down in six or seven years. You know Timmins, of course, will be worried naturally to ensure that employment continues. So we would include Timmins as part of this agreement,” he said.

Black said the city has had only preliminary discussions about the initiative, but he likes the idea.

“Under our memorandum of understanding, we have a few matters we’ve identified as a high priority and the Ring of Fire is one of those,” the mayor said, adding that more discussions with Mushkegowuk will take place in a few weeks’ time.

“I am fully supportive of any opportunities that may help bring Ring of Fire mining activities to Timmins. So we are planning on meeting again later this month, I believe, to have a further discussion on what would be involved.

“It is definitely something I am supportive of, if we can have an opportunity to process material from the Ring of Fire, here in Timmins.

“We’ve kind of been on the outside looking in on most discussions so far. If this is an opportunity to build on our relationship with Mushkegowuk and our MOU and help gain access for Timmins into the Ring of Fire, I am supportive of pursuing that further,” said Black.

“So what if the province kept the rail system up to Moosonee? And what if we went into a partnership with TGR Rail and provide the extension from Moosonee to the Ring of Fire? That option is still open," said  Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Lawrence Martin.


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