When Chief Jason Gauthier of Missanabie Cree First Nation read the Prime Minister’s refusal to his request for a meeting, these were his reactions:
- our First Nation relationship with him is not important enough for him to meet us
- he is shutting his door on an amazing opportunity for reconciliation
- he shows no respect for us having accomplished everything required to receive the first First Nation Railway Operating Certificate (ROC) in Ontario so as to operate the first First Nation passenger train.
Chief Gauthier is calling upon the Northern Ontario Caucus of Liberal MPs to convince their leader that it is important to meet with him.
After 5 years of demonstrating that the meagre funding required to operate the first ever First Nation-run train—the Bear Train—fits all Marc Garneau’s goals as Transport Minister, Chief Jason Gauthier went over his head. In a letter to the Prime Minister, in the nation to nation spirit that Trudeau claims to value, Chief Gauthier states that the Bear Train (to replace the former Algoma passenger train between Sault and Hearst) fits with the directives the Prime Minister has given to Minister Garneau:
- accelerate and build on the progress we have made with First Nations
- ensure that Canada’s transportation system supports the Government’s ambitious economic growth and job creation agenda
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Chief Gauthier outlined how the Bear Train can help redress the federal government’s unjust acquisition of land and displacement of First Nation peoples to build the railways by ensuring that the passenger service plays its role as essential infrastructure for regional economic development of the First Nations through whose territories it passes.
According to a study completed in 2014 by BDO Canada concluded that the Algoma passenger train annual funding of $2.2 million resulted in:
- $38-$48 million in annual economic impact
- 170-220 jobs
- $5.12- $6.45 million in annual tax generation.
This employment is particularly needed by the Indigenous people of the region whose rates of employment are significantly higher than the rest of the population.
Chief Gauthier concluded his letter to the PM: “Instead of supporting your government’s ‘ambitious economic growth and job creation agenda’ as directed by your mandate letter to the Transport Minister, the lack of funding for the passenger train is resulting in economic collapse and unemployment along the rail corridor from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst, a major missed opportunity for economic growth and job creation for the Missanabie Cree First Nation as well as a reconciliation opportunity.”
The comprehensive business plan for the proposed Bear Train can be accessed at www.beartrain.ca.