News from the North: A digest of First Nations news from Canada

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New business center seeks to expand opportunities

OHSWEKEN, Ontario - An independently operated organization has received $1.85 million from Ottawa in addition to $2.6 million already raised to construct a business center to foster training and entrepreneurship on the Six Nations of the Grand River.

The Grand River Employment and Training, Inc. (GRETI) Opportunity Business Center has been designed to be 40,000 square feet and located in the village of Ohsweken at Six Nations, Canada's most populous First Nation. The center's design is based on a traditional longhouse and will be home to boardrooms, classrooms, an 80-seat theater, and an atrium with a balcony.

GRETI executive director Elvera Garlow said there are also vocational training facilities at the center that include bays for auto mechanics, building trades, and welding.

Garlow added that several businesses have already leased space at the facility that she said is almost 90 percent completed.

"The business center will provide for our local companies in a centralized place for doing business that can be developed over time," said Garlow in a joint statement with the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs on May 15.

Businesses currently booked into the center include a data warehousing company, a financial services firm and the law offices of Kimberly Thomas who is from Six Nations.

Garlow stressed in an interview with Indian Country Today that the GRETI center is independent of the Six Nations Council and administered by its own board of directors to prevent interference from the council.

"We are being progressive and evolving to meet the needs of the community," said Garlow. "They (the Six Nations Council) want to be in control of everything and we would never get anywhere if the council kept interfering."

The Six Nations of the Grand River is home to 10,954 Natives living on-reserve with over 9,000 off-reserve. INAC estimates the available workforce at Six Nations to be 14,036 with 50 percent of the population being under the age of 25.

Millions pledged to improve water quality in First Nations communities

OTTAWA - The government of Canada has responded to the outcry over the Third World state of the water and sewer systems in First Nations communities by allocating $600 million to improve conditions.

In a joint statement issued by INAC Minister Robert Nault, Minister of health Anne McLellan and Minister of the Environment David Anderson on May 15 it was announced the federal government had already spent $86 million above the $100 million allocated annually to First Nations water quality, but was adding the additional money to fund 16 desperately needed projects.

The action is part of a federal a seven-part federal strategy to upgrade water and waste water facilities, monitoring and compliance procedures, expansion of operator training and certification, public awareness campaigns, and the establishment of standards and protocols.

The projects are divided on a regional basis and include the construction, design and expansion of water treatment, sewage, and water storage facilities in First Nations communities across Canada.

A complete list of the projects to be funded by the initiative can be found online at www.ainc-inac.gc.ca.

Harcourt appointed as federal commissioner

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A former British Columbia premier has been appointed to serve as the federal commissioner on the British Columbia Treaty commission.

Michael Harcourt was appointed to the position on May 16 and will serve a two-year term in his new position. Harcourt, a lawyer by trade, previously served three terms as the Mayor of Vancouver and four terms as a Vancouver alderman.

INAC Minister Robert Nault said that he was pleased to appoint Harcourt to the position based on his experience and integrity on dealing with aboriginal issues.

"His tremendous experience and working relationship with First Nations in British Columbia will enable him to make a significant contribution to one of the most important public policy issues facing British Columbia," Nault said in a prepared statement.

Harcourt replaces Peter Lustig who had been in the position since 1995.

According to information from INAC, the BC Treaty Commission is a neutral body responsible for facilitating treaty negotiations between the Government of Canada, First Nations and British Columbia. The treaty commission is made up of a chief commissioner and four commissions, two of which are chosen by First Nations.

E-Spirit 2003 secures grant

OTTAWA - Young First Nations entrepreneurs are benefiting from the recent spending bonanza by INAC Minister Robert Nault who announced a federal contribution of $50,000 to E-Spirit 2003.

E-Spirit is a national Internet-based aboriginal youth business plan competition for students in grades 10 - 12. This year's competition was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia May 13 - 16. The competition is sponsored by the Business Development Bank of Canada with the intent of giving aboriginal youth the opportunity to explore and learn about business development.

Teams are made up of two to six students who are assisted by a volunteer facilitator, an aboriginal mentor and technical advisors who design a complete business plan online.

The teams are awarded medals and cash prizes for their efforts ranging from $2,500 for the Gold medal, $1,500 for the Silver medal and $750 for the Bronze medal plan as judged by a team of banking professionals from the DBC.

DBC funding also played prominently in the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve's purchase of the Mnidoo Valley Golf Course in Ontario on May 16.

Wikwemikong Chief Walter Manitowabi said the band hopes to draw more tourists to the local area with the purchase and to create jobs for its membership.

Questions or comments on News from the North can be directed to Robert Taylor at rtaylo16@twcny.rr.com.