CAPT has a third letter writing campaign underway to the federal government requesting funds ($2.2 million) for the Bear Train between the Sault and Hearst. As you are aware, CAPT has been lobbying the federal government for several years for the reinstatement of funding for this passenger rail service. This letter, addressed to the Prime Minister, which is copied below, emphasizes the reasons the Missanabie Cree First Nation should be operating this service and why the federal government should fund it prior to the election. We encourage you and others to copy and paste this letter into a text document, print copies and send them to the Prime Minister and the other Ministers ccd in the letter, as well as your local MP. CAPT thanks all of you for your ongoing support.
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
As you are aware, many individuals, municipalities, and businesses in the Algoma region are quite concerned about the lack of passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. I respectfully request that the federal government assist the Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) by providing a subsidy of approximately $2.2 million as soon as possible for this critical service. I do not understand why this line is not subsidized when there is a subsidized line (Via Rail) from Sudbury to White River.
Since the Missanabie Cree’s Chief, Jason Gauthier, began leading the Algoma Passenger Train initiative, he has made impressive progress:
- Following Minister Garneau’s suggestion, MCFN began to work with INAC. INAC officials supported the proposed Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban (Bear Train in Cree), seeing it as an important economic development opportunity, providing stable employment for indigenous people, and as a clear example of a Reconciliation project in the spirit of the “Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action” which your government has committed to implementing. To that end, INAC provided financial resources for the development of the Mask-wa Transportation Corporation Business and Development Plan. While INAC assistance was essential and much appreciated, INAC is not able to provide the transportation operational resources to run the passenger train service. That function is within Transport Canada’s mandate.
- Chief Gauthier has negotiated very successfully with CN and has reached most of CN’s requirements:
- Completion of business and operational plans
- Receipt of a Railway Operating Certificate
- Completion of a safety plan
- Options for an access agreement with CN.
CN has expressed its approval of MCFN operating the passenger train.
The Bear Train would run on the Algoma Central-CN corridor which passes through the traditional territories of the MCFN and the territories of other First Nations, including Constance Lake First Nation and Michipicoten First Nation. These traditional territories have been used for many generations by First Nations for hunting, fishing, trapping, and other socio-cultural activities. More recently, these have become areas in which First Nations communities are developing ecotourism businesses, as well as forest management plans, and other resource-based undertakings, including mining.
The Algoma Central Railway was built over 100 years ago on land acquired with no First Nation consent or compensation. The colonial relationship continued through the entire history of the rail line. Missanabie Cree children were taken on the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger train to Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie. In late 2013, the Federal government decided to cancel the passenger train subsidy with no free, prior or informed consent, as required under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and no consultation in support of discharging the need to accommodate Aboriginal rights in cases of infringement, as supported by numerous Supreme Court of Canada rulings. The Northeast Superior Regional Chiefs Forum wrote to Transport Canada on March 4, 2014, pointing out that its cancelation of the subsidy was an infringement of the UNDRIP, since Indigenous people used the ACR service to access traditional areas for harvesting and other purposes.
Since that letter, the chiefs’ forum played an important leadership role with the ACR Passenger Train Stakeholders Working Group. In the fall of 2015, Chief Gauthier became Working Group Chair. Under his leadership a proposal was developed to create Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban (Cree for “Bear Train”)— which would be the first passenger train service operated by a First Nation in the history of Ontario.
This initiative is an opportunity for the Federal government to help correct the unjust acquisition of land and building of the ACR by ensuring that the passenger train service becomes essential transportation infrastructure for regional economic development of the First Nations through whose territories it passes. This is in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation to which your government is committed and Minister Garneau’s mandate statement that “no relationship is more important…than the one with Indigenous Peoples”. It puts the MCFN in the leadership, managerial role for an important regional service that was previously an instrument of their colonization.
This can be a good news story for the government, resulting in significant transportation, economic and tourism opportunities for several First Nations communities and for other regions in northern Ontario not well served by transportation options at this time. If this subsidy were made a priority by your government now, prior to the election, what a wonderful example this would be of tangible support for First Nations initiatives in more rural parts of Canada.
Name (print): _________________________________
Phone Number: ________________________________
cc: Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau
cc: Minister Seamus O’Regan, Indigenous Services
cc: Minister Carolyn Bennett, Crown-Indigenous Relations
cc: Minister Bernadette Jordan, Rural Economic Development
cc: Minister Carol Hughes, MP, Algoma Manitoulin-Kapuskasing
cc: Terry Sheehan, MP, Sault Ste. Marie
 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action
92 (ii) Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.