Members of the community of the Iskatewizaagegan No. 39 Independent First Nations conducted a ceremony yesterday in regards to the beginning of the safety upgrades and realignment of Ontario highway 673. The Nation’s Elder Steven Kejick led the ceremony.

Prior to the official ceremony, a blessing ritual was performed by members of the First Nation, where they blessed two corners that will be a part of Phase One of the project. This blessing is done due to the fact the ground will be disturbed, the people are making amends to the ancestors before disturbing the land.

The official ceremony was located at the Shoal Lake 39 Pow Wow Grounds and consisted of three ritual drumming songs from various members of the Shoal Lake 39 community, all three songs had a different meaning regarding the project.

The reasoning behind the start of the project is to straighten and realign some of the sharp hairpins turns along highway 673 to create a safer and more effective road for drivers. Highway 673 is the main thoroughfare in and out of the community and the lifeline to the community. In the winter the road has caused many vehicles to go into the ditch.

Shoal Lake 39 and the MTO have been in talks for this project for 2 ½ years and started out back in a preliminary phase which involved hearing concerns from Shoal Lake 39 residents, as well as figure technical aspects out and bring the project to the final design phase.

The “Project” will consist of four phases as the work will be done a couple of corners at a time and is expected to take anywhere from a year and a half to three years depending on how the project moves forward with construction.

The official start date to the project has not been determined but the Iskatewizaagegan No. 39 Independent First Nations are hopeful to begin the project this year.

The Project is the result of over ten (10) years of relationship building between the Nation and the Ontario Crown as represented by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO).

The Nation and MTO have met numerous times over the ten (10) years to not only discuss the importance of the Project to the safety of the Nation and its members, but also the proposed twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway (the “Twinning”) through its traditional territory where its members have historically, and continues in the present, to exercise rights and practices integral to our culture, tradition and identify as Anishinaabe.

During the last four (4) years, the Nation’s leadership has diligently put forth its positions of balancing the protection of the Nation members’ rights, including the preservation of the environment in which the rights are based, and its economic interests with the Ontario government’s desire to move forward with the Twinning.

The Project represents a positive step towards the reconciliation of the Nation’s rights with Ontario’s interests in the Twinning, and the Nation wishes to thank MTO and its representatives for their hard work and dedication to understanding the Nation’s position, including the importance of its rights and interests to the continued development of the Nation’s community.

Since the Twinning corridor is located twelve (12) kilometers from the Nation’s community and goes directly through the Nation’s traditional territory over which its members continue to exercise rights, the Nation is the most directly impacted community by the Twinning.

The Nation is appreciative of MTO’s efforts at reconciliation over the last ten (10) years given such direct impacts to the Nation. The Nation believes that together can it and MTO move the Twinning forward for the safety and benefit of all northwestern Ontario residents.