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

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Wildfires force evacuations

WHISPERING PINES, British Columbia - More than 250 members of the First Nations community of Whispering Pines, about 35 miles north of Kamloops, and their neighbors were forced to abandon their homes on Aug. 3 as wildfires continued to spread across western Canada.

The latest evacuations were ordered after the McLure-Barriere Fire jumped the North Thompson River and increased over 30 percent in size to almost 21,000 acres, according to emergency management officials and media reports.

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has also declared a state of emergency to cover the 350 fires burning out of control in the province. Campbell has appealed to the federal government for disaster assistance but has received no firm commitment on recovery assistance from Ottawa so far.

To date, nearly 10,000 residents have been evacuated from the affected areas of the British Columbia, including members of the Barriere Lake First Nation.

Fishing dispute continues

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The dispute between the First Nations and commercial fishing interests continued to heat up on the weekend of Aug. 2 as several bands vowed to ignore court rulings banning Native-only fisheries on the Frasier River and hold food social and ceremonial salmon harvests.

Judge William Kitchen of the British Columbia Provincial Court struck down the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Native-only policy on the grounds of racial discrimination in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Native bands in the province, led by the Cheam First Nation, are planning challenges to the ruling because they contend it violates their rights to hunt and fish in their ancestral homelands also enshrined in the Canadian constitution and by treaty. Tensions have remained high between the Cheam in particular, commercial and sport fishermen, and DFO enforcement officers despite a safety agreement negotiated over the past four years by former Cheam band Chief June Quipp.

An editorial in the Vancouver Sun published on Aug. 1 criticized the Cheam for ignoring the orders and previous comments they have made saying they will defend themselves if necessary and threats of "direct action." The editorial did not spare the DFO which was criticized for capitulating to the Cheam during the long-standing dispute.

"This chain of events is something that any kid on a school ground could have seen coming," said the Sun of the Cheam while calling on the tribe to obey the law and avoid any violent action. "When a bully isn't confronted, the degree of bullying escalates."

The decision is being supported by Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament and former commercial fisherman John Cummins. Cummins described the Cheam as thugs following previous flare-ups in the dispute and denied that the Natives-only fisheries improved relations between the bands and the DFO and helped to curtail poaching.

"Some people lost their boats, their homes," Cummins told the press. "Families broke up over this."

The First Nations in British Columbia did receive support from the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine.

The newly-elected National Chief said he supported an appeal of the Kitchen decision based on legal precedent and moral grounds.

"Fishing is an essential part of our relationship to the land and its resources," said Fontaine in a July 29 statement. "It is integral to our history, our culture our economies and eventually to our self-sufficiency."

Land claim, self-government vote held

WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The Kluane First Nation held a ratification vote on Aug. 4 that would approve a deal worked out earlier this year with the federal government that settles the band's land claim and would initiate self-government, but will not release the results until later in August.

Kluane Chief Bob Dickson told the Whitehorse Star the voting results were going to be delayed to allow all mail-in and absentee ballots to be counted.

Other Yukon First Nations that are close to ratifying similar agreements are the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. Only two of the First Nations territories are not close to an agreement or the ratification process of similar packages - the Liard First Nation and the Ross River Dena Council. Both bands are communities of the Kaska Nation, according to information from the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Proposed Native-owned casino may move

EDMONTON, Alberta - The Enoch Cree Nation is considering moving the site of its proposed $72 million (USD) as a result of negotiations with opposition community groups, the city council and the provincial government - sort of.

The regional media reported the band is considering moving the complex an additional 350 to 400 feet away. A spokesman for the Lewis Estates residents, Curtis Treen, said he was encouraged by the band's willingness to negotiate, but was hoping for a little more distance.

"The fact that we are having a dialogue and discussing the issues is a good sign for the community," Treen told the media in an interview on Aug. 3.

The proposed casino, hotel and resort was to be located just outside of the Edmonton city limits until 5,000 member of the neighborhood on the other side of the corporate limit, Lewis Estates, raised concerns over increased traffic and impaired drivers near their homes.

Chief Ron Morin, who has been negotiating the compromise for the Encoh Cree, could not be reached for comment. Morin and the Enoch band have also reportedly entered into negotiations with the City of Edmonton to provide water, sewer and emergency services to the casino. Morin and other band leaders have publicly said they will build their own water facilities if the city council rejects their proposal.

The Encoh Cree Nations has 1,788 total enrolled members on two reserves. The largest of these is nine miles southwest of Edmonton.

Please forward your questions or comments on News from the North to Robert Taylor at rtaylo16@twcny.rr.com.