By Rick Garrick
FORT WILLIAM FN – Wally Bannon wants his community to be involved in construction of the transportation route to the Ring of Fire mineral development area.
“I want to see Fort William and many of our other Robinson Superior members a part of developing the $800 million road or the $1.2 billion railroad from Nakina (located about halfway between Thunder Bay and North Bay on Hwy. 11) to the mine,” says the economic development director for Fort William First Nation. “I want to be a partner in that.”
Bannon says his community has already started up a road construction and aggregate company, which rebuilt 16.2 kilometres of community roads over the past summer. Up to 45 community members were employed at various stages during the $7 million project.
“We had no experienced people, we had a few pieces of equipment,” he recalls. “So we had to go out and find someone that could train, someone that knew how to develop the road to a point that it was on time and on budget and then train those individuals from our First Nation to be able to perform and develop with the building of the roads.”
Bannon says the project was successful and the community is now looking to secure road construction contracts in Thunder Bay and area.
“There is some interest in regards to MTO needing some crushing of rock,” Bannon says, noting the community purchased a mobile rock crusher which is now available for contract jobs. “We’re not looking to take on a $10 million or $15 million project; we’re looking at a project that we can do and make some money at.”
Bannon also wants to develop a training centre for community members interested in mining, forestry and energy careers in northwestern Ontario. He also shared his experience working with the Nishinawbe Aski Devlopment Fund (NASF) – which provides funding to Aboriginal business from Robinson Superior, NAN and Treaty 3 communities.
“I want to ensure First Nations people get properly trained. I saw two mines developed over the time I was at NADF — the Musselwhite and the Victor mines — in which we weren’t prepared and we lost out on a lot of opportunities. So here it is, the Ring of Fire and nine other mines in northwestern Ontario plus a number of energy projects. We must be prepared.”
Bannon says his community currently has 145 students in high school and another 114 in post secondary programs who will need jobs in the future.
“It’s gone far too often that we don’t invest in our people,” he says, “and that’s key to us being successful and generating wealth within our communities.”
Bannon also wants to see more First Nation businesses developed.
“I want to see the huge profits coming back to our reserves so that we can utilize them for infrastructure, for housing, for social projects.”
Fort William’s road construction company was one of the success stories highlighted during the Nov. 5-7 Robinson Superior Economic Summit.
The summit featured information from a number of speakers on mining, forestry, energy projects, fisheries, hunting and trapping, employment and training, education and peer lending circles.