WINNIPEG -- A virtual sacred ceremony Friday between four First Nations and the Ontario government confirmed consent for the twinning of the Trans Canada Highway from the Manitoba-Ontario border to Highway 673.

The four First Nations involved formed the Niiwin Wendaanimok Partnership in 2018, and include Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation, and Washagamis Bay First Nation.

“Today is a historic event, using Manito Aki Inakonigaawin as an essential part of the process,” said Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh of the Ogichidaa Grand Council Treaty 3. “And perhaps it was the largest consultation effort ever done within a Treaty 3 territory.”

Manito Aki Inakonigaawin, also known as the Great Earth law, was central to discussions and planning of the project, including the Harmonized Impact Assessment (HIA).

“This process harmonized the principles of our sacred law with scientific best practice,” said Chief Marilyn Sinclair of the Washagamis First Nation. “This is how we should have always done this, but it is never too late to start. We are starting now and we know that we can do this together for the next phase and the phase after that.”

The HIA was developed by the Niiwin Wendaanimok Partnership and has received national recognition for bringing Anishinaabe understandings and processes together with western science to assess impacts and mitigation of developments.

“This document tells the story of the Anishinaabe, the history of our relationship to the land, the skies, the soils, and the waters, but most importantly it was done through ceremony,” said Elder and Protocol Advisor George Kakeway.

Phase one of the project, the twinning of Highway 17 from the Manitoba-Ontario border to Highway 673, is expected to start in the fall. Future phases will expand the twinning to Kenora, but consent from First Nations is still pending.

“It provides opportunities for economic development and is the main travel route in and out of the territory. The project is essential in providing safe transportation for Treaty Three members and everyone travelling through the Nation,” said Kavanaugh.