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

Dumont takes Aim at James Bay Hyrdo

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec - The leader of one of the newest players in the political scene in Quebec provincial politics has said it will "re-launch" several controversial hydro-electric projects at a recent industry forum in the Cree and Innu territory in the James Bay region of the province.

Action d?mocratique du Quebec (ADQ) leader Mario Dumont said the move to develop the Great Whale project would be made to make the government of Quebec less dependent on lottery income.

"We're not in 1973, where you can go around and announce the project of a century without talking to the people," said Jean-Paul Murdoch, from the National Counsel of the Grand Council of the Cree.

Cree leaders fought for years and won a challenge to stop the project because flooding of their homeland from the damming would do irreversible damage to the environment and to traditional lifestyles.

Great Whale and other large scale projects were abandoned in favor of smaller projects like the Eastmain-Rupert River hydro-electric development that will benefit the Cree people $3.5 billion (Cdn.) or $2.4 billion (USD).

Brian Hendry, a media spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations, told Indian Country Today that the ADQ have become a legitimate political force in the province in the past few years and stand a good chance of winning the upcoming provincial elections.

Chief calls C-7 a Waste of Time

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Susan Custer, the chief of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, said the federal government would do better to honor its treaty obligations to members of the First Nations than waste time and money on the First Nations Governance Act.

Custer said Ottawa should focus on recognizing existing treaty rights, providing educational opportunities for Native youths and the deplorable living conditions in many First Nations.

"We don't have that quality of life on reserves," said Custer who added that the government should forget about the act and spend the money on housing. "There is no way the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation would accept any of the First Nations Governance Act right now."

The Regional Director of Indian Affairs and Northern Affairs Canada, Roy Boyd, said many of the First Nations representatives that submitted presentations to public hearings on the act, did not understand what C-7 is all about.

Boyd said the act is intended to provide First Nations governments with the modern tools needed to operate effectively and provide accountability which would lead to a better life.

The Nisga'a First Nation of British Columbia recently negotiated a treaty that confirms their right to complete self-government exempting them from the restrictions of the Indian Act and C-7 once it becomes law.

C-7 would eliminate the opportunity for other First Nations to take the same path in favor of increased accountability to Ottawa.

Self-government Faces Opposition

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - An agreement reached on Feb 26 between the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) at the organization's winter meeting is drawing criticism from some members even after five years of negotiations.

Alex Kennedy, a spokesman for the Battlefords Tribal Council, said the act is a threat to treaty rights because the province of Saskatchewan is a signatory and tribes would be better off negotiating their own agreements.

"We think it's wrong," said Kennedy. "We think there is a better way. We feel we have a right in North Battleford to develop our own system that is better than the one suggested.

The nature of this objection is similar to the problems tribal governments in the United States face when state governments seek to assert authority over their sovereignty.

The agreement reached at the FSIN has been touted by some as an alternative to the controversial First Nations Governance Act. The FSIN proposal seeks to set up tribal governments based on treaties already in place while leaving control and oversight of labor, corrections, environmental protection and law enforcement to Ottawa.

Ontario Reserves get Economic Boost

OTTAWA - Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Robert D. Nault announced the grants and investments in Aboriginal communities and business total $1,010,000 (Cdn.)

The investments will allow tribal governments and Native-owned businesses to expand, explore new business opportunities and improve existing enterprises.

Funding will go to the following projects:

*Mushkegowuk Tribal Council for a human resource project to prepare members for employment in the tourism, mining, and forestry industries.

*Michipicoten First Nation to support efforts to jointly develop a hydro-electric facility at Dore Falls with Great Lakes Power Ltd.

*Chapleau Ojibway First Nation to pay for a study to determine the most effective use of 20,000 cubic meters of mature timber knocked down by storms this winter.

*T.C. Automotive and RV of Little Current, Ontario to build a new facility and purchase updated equipment.

*Batchewana First Nations to conduct a feasibility study on harvesting Canada Yew in the Algoma region as therapeutic treatment for various diseases.

*Big Vermillion Lodge to help expand existing tourism and hospitality operations in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

*Wasaya Ma Mow Ltd. to expand float and ski-plane operations in Northern Ontario.

*Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation to explore new forestry job opportunities.

*Sandy Lake First Nation for consultation fees on proposed mineral exploration.

*Pic Mobert First Nation to develop power generation facilities on tribal land.

*Whitesand First Nation to develop small hydro-electric sites on traditional land.

*Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishnabek to revitalize fishing and fish-packing operations on its territory.

*Fort William First Nation to help develop two sugar maple stands.

Sarah Archer, director of strategic direction and policy for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in Ontario, could not be reached to comment on the number of jobs that would be created or whether the spending spree in Ontario was to bolster regional support for Ottawa's unpopular suite of legislation updating the Indian Act.