Peter Collins to lead new economic era for First Nations

Former Fort William First Nation chief transfers to power line development role

Peter Collins’ role may have changed in recent weeks, but it’s clear his priorities and vision for Northern Ontario have not changed.

As CEO of the new Chi Mino Ozhitoowin (CMO), the former Chief of the First Nation of Fort William continues to advocate for economic development and opportunity for Indigenous communities and their members.

With Hydro One’s announcement on September 22 that it will work 50:50 with Indigenous groups on all major energy projects, Collins is poised to help usher in this new economic era for Indigenous communities in Northwest Ontario and beyond.

“This is so important; It’s so groundbreaking for us and our communities that Hydro One has finally taken this step,” Collins said, adding that he told the Chiefs at the meeting that he felt they all had a role to play, Hydro Getting One to “think outside the box”.

“For us, it really sets a precedent that a company of this scale is finally taking a look at our perspective.”

The new Hydro One-Indigenous Equity partnership model includes the Waasigan Transmission Project, which will build power lines between Shuniah outside of Thunder Bay and Dryden via Atikokan.

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This landmark agreement with Gwayakocchigewin Limited Partnership (GLP), announced in May, may have been the blueprint — and catalyst — for the new provincial-wide partnership model.

GLP itself is a partnership between eight regional First Nations: Eagle Lake First Nation, Fort William First Nation, Seine River First Nation, Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, Lac La Croix First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation and Ojibway Nation of Saugeen .

The partnership then created CMO as a separate service company to oversee and support the yet to be named contractor for the Waasigan project. CMO will also provide other support, including facilitating training for Indigenous workers who wish to work on the project.

Collins stepped in as CEO of CMO on September 19, the day after he officially stepped down as Chief of Fort William First Nation.

His departure from politics is not unexpected.

Collins announced at the last election that this would be his last term. He said after serving several terms as chief and first serving as a councilor in 1986, he felt it was time to step away from politics.

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Still, the timing came as a surprise to many.

Collins said that when the opportunity presented itself at CMO, he could not turn it down, even though it meant an early departure from his tenure. The decision was at least partly due to the fact that being a chief does not offer a pension – something Collins sees as a barrier to attracting good people to Indigenous leadership positions.

“It’s an issue that Canada and the chiefs have to deal with,” he said. “When I look at veteran chiefs…they go with nothing. The challenge for me when I knew I was leaving at the end of this term was that I would have no income. I had to seize the opportunity that presented itself.”

That didn’t dampen his feelings about his tenure overall.

“I loved every minute,” Collins said. “I’ve been trying to open the door for new voices and hopefully that works well for the Fort William community.”

He said his two greatest accomplishments under his leadership were working with Resolute Forest Products to bring a sawmill to the community and settle the majority of the Fort William First Nation’s claims.

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Collins was also a strong advocate of economic development and creating opportunities for youth.

“I have laid a good foundation for a brighter future for our communities. We have achieved a lot over the years, but at the same time we have struggled with some things. They still need work on,” said Collins, who cited addiction and the drug epidemic as one of the ongoing struggles.

Collins will continue to drive economic development, just in a different capacity.

“My role has always been to drive economic development in the community of Fort William… and throughout Northwest Ontario. I am very honored to have been selected for this role. I have to change my mindset from being a politician to being a CEO, but I usually adapt pretty quickly. In my first week as CEO of CMO, I really pushed hard.”

Collins said projects and agreements like Waasigan are a step in the right direction towards reconciliation.

“It will give our young people the opportunity, the hope and the aspiration … so that they can have a good income for their families and their future,” he said.