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

Tax dispute settled

REGINA, Saskatchewan - The Province of Saskatchewan and four First Nations received $3.2 million on July 15 in total refunds over an on-reserve tax collection dispute.

The dispute was the collection of provincial sales taxes on tobacco and fuel from status Natives on the Poundmaker (pop. 1,115), Red Earth (pop. 1,144), Mistawasis (pop. 2,061) and Peepeekisis (pop. 2,172) reserves.

The Court of Queen's Bench originally approved the deal on June 30 and has given the First Nations named in the deal up to 30 days to accept the refunds or file their own suits for compensation.

According to the Canadian Press, 40 Saskatchewan First Nations have filed suit against the province so far over the tax collection issue with six being settled to date.

The deal is subject to the membership approval by each band.

Adoption of Aboriginal girl questioned

HAMILTON, Ontario - The fate of an Aboriginal girl has pitted what some consider being in her best interest against political correctness run amok.

The three-year-old girl, being called Emma in the Canadian media to protect her identity, is half Squamish and was removed from her addict parents by the Children's Aid Society in December 2000. Emma was placed in foster care with a non-Native family where reports have said she was cared for and developing normally. Her foster parents even recently began adoption proceedings with the support of the CAS.

The case seemed to be settled and Emma would be able to stay with the "only family she had ever known," said an editorial in the National Post, but the child welfare agency changed its mind when the Squamish said they wanted the child back despite the facts she was only half Squamish, was not born on the Squamish reserve, and whose Squamish mother also had not lived on the reserve since being a young girl herself.

Emma's foster family lives in Southern Ontario and the Squamish territory is more than 3,000 miles away in British Columbia.

Cultural concerns over permanently placing Emma in a non-Native home are the crux over the argument against the adoption. CAS and the Squamish maintain the child's Aboriginal heritage warrants her welfare being in the hands of people of the same ancestry is more important than the ability of her foster parents to care for Emma if she were adopted by them, according to the editorial.

The Squamish First Nation could not be reached for comment.

Legal team to look at offshore oil development

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The University of Victoria released a report this year that offshore oil and gas reserves could be worth as much as $500 billion over a 30 year period and put as much as $1 billion per year in provincial coffers, but there could be legal obstacles from a First Nation and several conservation groups.

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines, the provincial agency responsible for overseeing such developments, has asked a team of legal experts with the Attorney General's office to examine what problems would be posed by proceeding with the development of the reserves.

One of those problems would be the settlement of the claim by the Haidi First Nation to the Hecate Strait in the Queen Charlotte Islands where the reserves are located. Conservation groups, like the David Suzuki Foundation and the Living Oceans Foundation are concerned that the province is pushing through their end of approving harvesting the oil and gas without proper scientific impact studies by Ottawa and public input.

Ottawa would be on the hook for clean up costs and damages from any spills even if the Hecate Strait eventually comes under the jurisdiction of British Columbia adding a further complication, according to media reports.

A similar situation has developed with the Hibernia oil field off the coast of Newfoundland where 97 spills have occurred since the field was brought into production in 1997.

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