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No more 'missed opportunities'

Representatives from more than 35 First Nations and five partner organizations representing tribal councils came together in Thunder Bay this week for the Neeganii-Iishawin Gathering. The four-day, inaugural event was facilitated by Windigo Community Development Corporation in partnership with Matawa First Nations, Keewaytinook Okimakanak, Shibogama First Nations Council and Independent First Nations Alliance. The gathering aims at economic development, reconciliation and the promotion of built-in prosperity in Ontario's north. John Beardy, director of business development for Windigo Community Development Corporation, said the event has been in the making for more than two years. "We realized that we need to capture the economic activities in our territories and some groups are more advanced than others, which are just starting and are looking for partners or investment or building capacity to do employment and training," Beardy said. "Because we are neighbouring communities that are close together, we looked at how we can start helping each other to partner for information and resource sharing." Beardy said many of their communities weren't ready in business, employment or training for the $2-billion Wataynikaneyap Power transmission project that has been underway over the last four years. "For a project like that, communities need to be prepared several years in advance," he said, adding there are other projects that are coming down the line in mining infrastructure, forestry and energy projects that are huge. "From our experience, our communities need to get ready, not only in starting businesses or finding partners, but there's also training for employment, and just making sure that whatever business or partnership they have, they have the capacity to deliver on a timely basis and on budget." The gathering at the Victoria Inn focused on the need for a development corporation to work together. Presenters from across Canada shared their best practices for developing partnerships, businesses and corporations. Beardy said they need to learn how to apply those practices and principles from other Indigenous groups across Canada in their own territory. JP Gladu, the principal of Mokwateh and former president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, brought his national experience to the gathering and called the initiative a "team effort." He acknowledged the panelists who came to Thunder Bay from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and other provinces for bringing experiences from their own communities. "There have been missed opportunities because the (northern) communities weren't organized enough to take advantage of them and we don't want to see those opportunities pass the communities again," Gladu said. MP Greg Rickford, minister of Indigenous affairs and northern development, attended the gathering Tuesday and spoke with chiefs from the participating First Nations. "When we think about economic reconciliation that is happening in the country, we think about our communities generating their own wealth," he said. He added managing poverty is not an easy thing to do and the community leaders are still managing much of that. "The way out is through wealth generation, employment of your people, training of your youth, the supply chain and it's also about ownership of projects," he pointed out.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal