Windsor battery plant provides catalyst for new Ontario-First Nations working group to advance infrastructure projects
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Sep 28, 2022
Mehanaz Yakub

The new table’s aim is to help advance infrastructure development in southwestern Ontario — starting with the $5-billion Stellantis-LG battery project — while addressing local First Nation needs and assuring equitable access to economic opportunities

The people in the above photo from left to right are Chief Larry Sault, former chief of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation; Greg Bickford, Ontario’s minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs; Mary Duckworth, chief of the Caldwell First Nation; Victor Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and Jason Henry, chief of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. Photo: Greg Rickford/Twitter

The new table’s aim is to help advance infrastructure development in southwestern Ontario — starting with the $5-billion Stellantis-LG battery project — while addressing local First Nation needs and assuring equitable access to economic opportunities

The Government of Ontario is partnering with First Nation groups in southwestern Ontario to help advance major infrastructure and investment projects, including electric vehicle initiatives, in the province.

The Caldwell First Nation, the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and the Three Fires Group located in southwestern Ontario will together form the new Three Fires Nations-Ontario Southwestern Ontario Infrastructure and Economic Opportunities Table along with the Ontario government.

The group was established, in part, due to concerns over the government’s approach in pushing through approvals for the proposed $5-billion Stellantis-LG Energy Solution battery plant. The First Nation leaders approached various parliamentary ministers and Premier Doug Ford seeking to create a dynamic that is more collaborative and less “adversarial.”

“There is a duty to consult and that’s been established [but] I’m not sure it quite does what it’s intended to do from a First Nation perspective,” Jason Henry, the Chief of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

“[We] began talking about what a new relationship could look like… where from the onset of a new project or a new proponent coming to our territory, the conversation begins there [with us] and it’s set in an area that encompasses our treaty territory.”

From the government’s perspective, the joint table will be meant to advance the billions of dollars in infrastructure and clean energy projects while also engaging in “meaningful” dialogue and partnership with the First Nation leaders in the region.

“We are moving forward on our promise to build the province of Ontario, and this table will allow First Nations partners an opportunity to inform decisions in a respectful forum and share in economic prosperity,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs in a press statement.

Providing input for EV projects

The table will officially convene in October or November, though preliminary discussions have already begun, says Henry. The main focus of the discussion so far has been the Stellantis-LG battery plant and in addressing concerns about the potential environmental impacts it will have on nearby communities, including the Caldwell First Nation.

“I understand that battery manufacturing is not the cleanest of manufacturing,” says Henry. “We want to make sure that the environmental responsibility is being upheld and [we want to be] working with [Stellantis] to hopefully help build the facility and hopefully help own and operate the facility as a partnership. Those are the current interests we have.”

While the Ontario government continues ramping up investments in the province’s auto sector to capitalize on the EV revolution, Henry adds that the First Nation groups’ focus at the table will be on what is best for the environment, what will help increase environmental restoration and figure out the best ways to harness green energy.

“There’s the benefit of business with electric vehicles [and they] certainly are a greener alternative to fossil-fueled vehicles… but we also have to make sure we’re focusing on public transportation and what’s efficient for the environment,” says Henry.

In Henry’s view the marker of success of this Economic Opportunities Table, will be the ability to work “hand-in-hand” with all stakeholders “to help bring our Nations to economic sovereignty, where we participate in business at a provincial level, at a national level and at a global level with some of these developments that help preserve the earth and allow our nations to be prosperous as well.”

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