ARCHIVED - Beyond Boundaries – The Michipicoten Story, Ontario
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With its $58 million boundary claim settlement, the Michipicoten First Nation is building on its past successes and pursuing new opportunities, such as partnerships with its neighbours.
Michipicoten First Nation has a tradition: when visitors arrive, they celebrate with a feast. There have been many feasts in the community in recent years because with their fifth specific land claim settlement, there's a lot to celebrate.
Since the early 1700s, treaties were signed with First Nations; they paved the way for the peaceful settlement and development of much of Canada. The treaties concluded with Ontario First Nations north of Lake Superior included solemn promises to provide reserve land. In the case of Michipicoten, however, the boundaries of their reserve were not where they should have been.
This discrepancy was addressed in 2008 when federal and provincial governments signed a settlement with Michipicoten. It was the last in a series of highly successful negotiations between Michipicoten and Canada that resolved five land claims.
"We had a lot of meetings with the members going on with the boundary claim and they seemed to be… agreed to the proposal that was on the table and it went through pretty well. And then the vote came in and it was almost 100% of all in favour of the boundary claim."
"Canada, Ontario and the nation as a whole need to see the positive things that do occur for First Nations—that it isn't always the bad news. It isn't always what's sensationalized; a road block or an Oka. It is the small success stories, or large success stories that are happening for the betterment of all people."
Michipicoten has been creating their own successes. The First Nation has invested their previous settlement funds in their community to support programs, from education and job training to health and wellness programs.
"We have a lot more opportunity here. Everybody's working here—there's no, there's zero unemployment."
With its $58 million boundary claim settlement, Michipicoten is building on their past successes and pursuing new opportunities, such as partnerships with their neighbours.
"As long as we can partner up, we've got more strength. The mayors have formed a group and there's also five First Nations in the area. And we're all, you know, we're all striving for the same thing."
One key project for Wawa and the First Nation is the re-development of Michipicoten harbour and its access road. While the facility may have fallen into disrepair after the closing of the town's major industries, the economic potential of a port on Lake Superior is as great as ever.
"Wawa is a hub community. We're a transportation hub beside Lake Superior, which is a great asset. We have the Trans-Canada highway, we're not too far from railway links, and so on. So, the redevelopment of Michipicoten harbour is an example, is one that Michipicoten was concerned about the issues, but certainly they see it as an opportunity that we can collaboratively develop. More transportation infrastructure in the area—that will benefit the economies of everyone."
The harbour is just the beginning. There's green energy on the way; commercial development; and increased tourism. With the investment made possible by the Michipicoten land claim settlement, economic uncertainty is turning into optimism.
"My vision is the opportunities are unlimited, you know, because every day you come up with something a little different. I can probably see we won't have the manpower to go ahead and bring all these things in. That's why we're getting the other First Nations involved and the mayors, because it's going to be a boom for, I hope, for everybody. We've got diamond prospects here, we've got gold. It's really an exciting time."
Expertise, good will and a co-operative spirit were behind settling these land claims, laying the groundwork for stronger partnerships and bringing hope to the First Nation, Wawa and the surrounding region – communities working together for a common good.
"So, it's been good to see the settlement done. We're talking on a forward-looking basis; we recognize that for Michipicoten and its members, it's a big part of their future, and that makes it a big part of our future."
"I think it helps present a more positive image to other First Nations as well; that the way we will get things done is by taking a positive step forward. We have to, at some point in time, let go of the past and work together as a nation to make it better for everybody."
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