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

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Band members reject land claim settlement

BLENHEIM, Ontario - A settlement that would have granted the Caldwell First Nation its own reserve for the first time was voted down by the band membership under questionable circumstances that have led to accusations of voter fraud by opposition band members and a criminal investigation by postal inspectors.

The Caldwell First Nation would have received an 1,820-acre reserve and over $20 million.

Caldwell Chief Larry Johnson told Indian Country Today the Aug. 9 vote was under appeal by the band leadership because of improperly filed mail-in ballots that were accepted after the Aug. 7 deadline.

According to Johnson, there is evidence that many ballots were surreptitiously obtained by dissidents from elderly and infirm band members, filled out and fraudulently submitted by those not eligible to vote on the settlement, including non-band members.

There were also allegations that members of a dissident faction used harassment and intimidation to coerce band members into rejecting the settlement, said Johnson.

"I have never heard of such a thing where an Indian person campaigned against his own people," said Johnson. "They were going door-to-door, including to non-members, seeking support and telling those people that the band council was going to make off with a whole bunch of money (from the settlement)."

Johnson said the real issue was the right of Caldwell First Nation to limit and control its own membership to maximize the long-term benefits of a settlement instead of what he called "a quick money fix" favored by "assimilated Indians."

"We have a good life here and we didn't want any more people joining the band," said Johnson of the 700 acres the band owns and operates a small housing project for its members on. "They were coming out of the woodwork like termites and we didn't want the money spread too thin - they are trying to force the reserve Indians out.

"We are going to defend our home and they will not take us out alive."

The Caldwell land claim area defined by the 1790 treaty covers approximately 2,000 square miles from Windsor on the U.S. border east along the southern bank of the Thames River to the St. Thomas, Ontario.

Canada commits funds to winter road upgrades

KITCHENUHMAYKOOSIB INNINWOG, Ontario - Winter is the last thing on the mind of many Canadians this year with record temperatures and wildfires razing forest all the way to the west coast, but many First Nations communities - isolated for months during long, harsh winters - are welcoming the Government of Canada's commitment of over $830,000 to upgrade winter roads in Northern Ontario.

According to Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Robert D. Nault, the contribution to the Ashweig Winter Roads Corp. will decrease isolation, reduce traveling times and provide improved access to necessary commodities.

The Ashweig Winter Roads Corp. is jointly owned by the six First Nations, including Kasabonika Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninwog (Big Trout Lake), Wapeka, Wawakapenin and Wunnumin Lake. The road improvement project will link the communities and increase safety by reducing the need for ice crossings by the six bands' combined membership of 2,900.

According to INAC, the total cost of the project is estimated at $1,676,000 with Canada's contribution being contingent on the First Nations involved raising the balance. INAC spokeswoman Susan Bertrand declined to comment if Native-owned contractors would be given preferential status when contracts were awarded.

Ashweig Winter Road Corp. General Manager Mike Mamakwa could not be reached for comment, but a background paper detailing the project specified it will include a series of small bridges and the first section of the route will be a 30-mile section linking the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninwog community with existing roads.

The project is scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2004.

Media obtains report on status card fraud

OTTAWA - A report obtained by Access to Information Act researcher Ken Rubin at the Globe and Mail from the Ministry of Indian Affairs has revealed widespread fraud resulting from the illegal use of Certificate of Indian Status identification cards.

The report, completed in April, claimed that provincial and federal tax coffers lose over $62 million per year from illegally duplicated CIS cards and an effort to modernize the cards and prevent the fraud will cost an estimated $17 million and an annual budget of $6.3 million.

The cards are used to identify registered Indians for proof of status and exemptions to many federal and provincial sales taxes on nearly all goods and services. An article on the report in the Globe and Mail also said the cards are highly valued on the black market because they are used by status Natives to gain entrance to the United States and sell for up to $1,000.

Improved security measures recommended for the cards include the addition of a bar code. Currently, CIS cards are laminated paper and are easy to duplicate or alter.

INAC did not respond to ICT requests for comment on the public release of the report by the time of publication.

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News from the North received several inquiries and comments from First Nations citizens in regard to a proposal by Health Canada requiring they sign consent forms with their personal and health information with the stated intent of monitoring prescription drug use and fraud. The deadline for this proposal has been pushed back six months as the result of negotiations initiated by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, although all respondents still considered the consent forms to be intrusive, unnecessary and a violation of the privacy. An article on these negotiations was published in the Aug. 6 (Vol. 23, Iss. 8) edition of News from the North and is available online at www.indiancountry.com.

More information on the consent form debate is available by visiting the AFN homepage at www.afn.ca.

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