Who is Marten Falls First Nation and Why do They Want an Access Road?
Marten Falls First Nation (MFFN) is a remote First Nation community located in Ontario’s Far North, at the junction of the Albany and Ogoki Rivers, and is accessible by air or seasonal winter road only. MFFN has a registered population of 794 with approximately 325 members living on reserve. The community is located approximately 170 km northwest of Nakina, Ontario and the road accessible community of Aroland First Nation.
MFFN has started a community-led Environmental Assessment (EA) process for a proposed all-season access road to the community. MFFN has been planning for a community access road for over a decade in order to improve the quality of life for its membership. The cost of airfare for travel and freight, and the limited winter road season make it expensive to stay connected to family in the city for school and health reasons, obtain much needed resources, and develop a local economy and provide jobs.
What Does Community-Led Mean in Practice?
The EA process MFFN is engaged in is community-led, meaning the MFFN community will shape plans for this important development under the leadership of MFFN Community Advisors, MFFN Chief and Council and with the support of technical expertise.
In general, past large infrastructure projects have been proposed and carried out by government or industry proponents. In this scenario, government or industry envisions, plans and designs the project, and First Nations are considered interested persons if their rights will be impacted by the project. Through consultation, the proponent hopes to inform First Nations and the public about the project and gain insights on specific impacts and on the mitigation measures that would be acceptable. In addition, consultation activities with First Nations are used to support the Crown’s Duty to Consult, as per Section 35 of the Constitution.
So what makes this project different?
MFFN is the proponent who will plan for and develop the all season access road to its community. As the proponent, MFFN will create the vision, plan for and design the access road; as opposed to only being informed of and consulted on its development. As a result, the MFFN community—under leadership of MFFN Community Advisors and MFFN Chief and Council—will develop solutions and advance decisions for the proposed all season road. MFFN community members can expect to be engaged by the Community Access Road (CAR) Project Team at key milestones during this project to seek both direction on how to move forward and feedback to support the record of consultation.
On a regular basis, the CAR Project Team will seek direction from the MFFN community. MFFN is in the driver seat and can make reasonable efforts to ensure the EA is completed to their satisfaction. Industry and government proponents do not seek this kind of direction from First Nations on their projects.
As well, like any industry or government proponent, MFFN is required to consult with impacted First Nations near the project study area, including MFFN community members, neighbouring Indigenous communities and the public.
Marten Falls First Nation community members—led by their elected Chief and Council and supported by a team of technical experts—will develop solutions and advance decisions for the proposed all season access road
Provincial Versus Federal Environmental Assessment, What is the Difference?
At this time, documents are being prepared to meet the requirements of two different EA processes, the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The table below highlights some key differences between the two processes. For more information, you can visit www.ontario.ca/page/environmental-assessments or www.canada.ca/en/environmental-assessment-agency.
Ontario Environmental Assessment Act
- This process officially starts when the proponent releases a Notice of Commencement for the Terms of Reference.
- The proponent must consult during the preparation of the Terms of Reference document.
- The Terms of Reference is submitted for government approval.
- The approved Terms of Reference must be followed by the proponent when conducting the EA.
- The objective of the Ontario EA is to design the best alternative – considering options and choosing the option that maximizes benefits and minimizes impacts.
- Defines environment as: (a) air, land or water; (b) plant and animal life, including human life; (c) the social, economic and cultural conditions that influence the life of humans or a community; (d) any building, structure, machine or other device or thing made by humans; (e) any solid, liquid, gas, odour, heat, sound, vibration or radiation resulting directly or indirectly from human activities; or (f) any part or combination of the foregoing and the interrelationships between any two or more of them, in or of Ontario.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
- This process officially starts with the proponent preparing and submitting a Project Description.
- The proponent is not required to consult during the preparation of the Project Description, but they are encouraged to.
- The Project Description is used by the government to decide if an EA is required.
- If an EA is required, the government prepares a document called the Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines, which must be followed by the proponent when conducting the EA.
- The objective of the Canadian EA is to design a project to avoid or minimize significant adverse environmental impacts.
- Defines environment as: (a) land, water, air (all layers of atmosphere); (b) all organic and inorganic and living organisms; (c) the interacting natural systems that include the components above.
- Note all information in this table based on or pulled from the following webpages:
Although both EA processes are legislated planning and decision-making tools, each process is different. Throughout the EA process for this project, MFFN will be working to ensure the EA meets the needs of both the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in a coordinated process.