By Rick Garrick
Fort William Chief Peter Collins looks forward to working with newly-elected Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Don Rusnak, a Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation citizen.
“I look at Don as our brother from a different First Nation, but also a good Anishinabe that is also a (lawyer),” Collins says. “Don and I have already had a conversation on how we can work together and do a regular meeting. I think Don is going to be very inspirational in our communities.”
Rusnak studied law at the University of Manitoba, Robson Hall Faculty of Law, after studying Political Science and Integrated Forest Resource Management at Lakehead University. In his final year at law school, he attended Osgoode Hall Law School to study in the Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources and Governments. Before setting up his law office in Fort William First Nation, Rusnak was a crown prosecutor in eastern Alberta, an advisor with Manitoba Health and executive director of Grand Council Treaty #3.
“He’s been around the political arena, he knows the legalities of what he is going to be working on and where he is moving his intentions to,” Collins says. “There is a lot of work on the First Nations front but also on Canada’s front in its entirety.”
Collins is also looking forward to benefits for First Nations people after the Liberal Party won a majority government in the Oct. 19 federal election, with 184 of the 338 seats. The Liberal Party includes eight of the record 10 Indigenous MPs elected across the country.
“Our chiefs and our councillors and our First Nations people made a very loud impact on the outcome of this election,” Collins says. “With a willing prime minister and a willing premier, lots of First Nations people should be able to move the yardsticks in a positive direction.”
Collins wants to see more benefits from natural resources in the Robinson Superior region.
“To me a IBA (Impact Benefit Agreement) is a given,” Collins says. “The bigger and better opportunities in the mining development is (on) the construction side — that is where all of the money is.”
Collins says his community has plenty of unoccupied land available for industrial development.
“We’re looking at developing our territory,” Collins says. “We’re looking for business partners, we’re looking for development partners so we can move our opportunities and keep our young people at home.”
Rusnak plans to bring Fort William’s infrastructure needs to caucus in Ottawa.
“I know (Collins) wants to look at infrastructure funding for a number of projects, one including a replacement for the (James Street) bridge and improving access to the community,” Rusnak says. “Of course they are not a party to the agreement of the bridge that is there, with CN and the city, but it affects them greatly. It was their main point of access across the river to the City of Thunder Bay.”
Rusnak says the newly-elected federal government plans to listen to the different communities across the country.
“We need to get these lines of communication open and see where we can help,” Rusnak says.
Rusnak plans to set up constituency offices in Thunder Bay and Fort Frances and to share space in the provincial constituency office in Atikokan.
Rusnak says the atmosphere in Ottawa was “electric” during his first trip to Parliament as MP.
“Everyone is excited; there’s high hopes,” Rusnak says. “You don’t want to disappoint; you want to live up to those high hopes. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but what we have to do first is make sure the groundwork is right.”