AKWESASNE – Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict called it as “momentous moment” as officials from Akwesasne and Cornwall signed a partnership agreement Tuesday.
Roughly 50 people – mostly officials – gathered at the Big Turtle Arena this morning for the signing, which will see the First Nation and the City of Cornwall own and manage the 16 acre port lands off Harbour Road.
“Today is a new era of cooperation as we formalize our relationship,” Grand Chief Benedict said in his opening remarks. “For a long time we’ve been neighbours, but now we are partners as we move forward to create opportunities for both our communities.”
“Together in the spirit of cooperation to bring to fruition what only we thought a number of years ago was just a far shot in the dark,” the grand chief said.
Cornwall Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy agreed that is was a “momentous moment.”
“The process when we first began with the grand chief was moving slowly but it quickly picked up steam. I think it’s opportunity for both communities. The potential is there for us to build something,” the mayor said.
O’Shaughnessy reiterated that the agreements and the confidentiality agreements would be released today, which will reveal why the talks had to be behind closed doors. “This has been what’s been happening with every port divestiture in Canada that the federal government is dealing with,” he said.
In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Grand Chief Abram Benedict said the partnership could open doors.
“We don’t have a formal relationship so this one will open doors for opportunities, economy…social…cultural…tourist opportunities…so the end goal is we’ll create a commission together that will oversee the development of what’s going to happen with the port,” Benedict said.
The final agreement with Transport Canada won’t be completed until June 30, 2016.
The grand chief indicated there are no terms for the agreement with Transport Canada yet and negotiations continue.
While land rezoning has already taken place to allow for future uses of the port land, Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy suggested it will be years before anything is developed.
“Just because the zoning is changed today doesn’t mean we’ll have to get rid of everything that’s there today. There will be a process. That will be released June 30th because there is a time frame that we made commitments to,” the mayor said.
When asked if a private third party could be a future developer, “all those options are on the table,” O’Shaughnessy said.
During the ceremony, Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict also recognized recently-retired Cornwall CAO Norm Levac with a weaved fishing basket for his important role in the negotiations.