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

Ottawa spending spree continues

TORONTO - First Nations in Ontario are continuing to benefit from an initiative by the government of Canada to improve the quality of life of reserve communities in the province.

Robert D. Nault, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Allan Rock, Minister of Industry and Infrastructure, announced on March 20 the joint contribution of $2,456,303 (Cdn.) or approximately $1.67 million (USD) for infrastructure projects on Ontario reserves.

"The infrastructure projects reflect the government of Canada's commitment to improving the quality of life of First Nations residents and other across Canada," said Rock in an official statement. "We're investing in the future of communities by giving local governments the resources they need to build much needed infrastructure and protect their water quality as well as increasing opportunities for economic development.

Generally, the federal contributions for the projects average about one-third of the total cost of a project. The numerous projects include a fire hall building for the Cat Lake First Nation, water main installation for the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, a surface water intake for the Mohawks of Akwesasne, a fire department building for the Sachigo Lake First Nation, a water main extension for the Serpent River First Nation, a reservoir and booster bumping station for the Six Nations of the Grand River and a sludge drying bed for the Webequie First Nation.

Tlicho Agreement completed

YELLOWKNIFE, Northwest Territories - For the first time in the history of the Northwest Territories an agreement has been completed between a First Nation, the territorial government and Ottawa that combines land claim and self-government elements.

The Tlicho Agreement was initialed by negotiators from the Dogrib Treaty 11, the territory, and the federal government on March 18 and is now headed for ratification by band members.

"This historic agreement builds upon a long standing relationship with governments that began in 1921 with Chief Monfwi," said Grand Chief Joe Rabesca of the Tlicho. "It puts into words in greater detail how we will work together on matters important to all of us."

According to information from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the self-government section of the agreement will give the Tlicho law-making power to manage their land and natural resources, while also protecting their culture and language.

The agreement had to be revised to make it compatible with overlapping agreements between the Tlicho and the Deh Cho and Akaitcho First Nations.

In addition, existing local governments in the Tlicho communities of Bencho Kom Wha Ti, Gameti and Wekweti would be replaced with Tlicho community governments.

Further information on the agreement can be found at

Report on northern contamination released

OTTAWA - A 960-page study examining the impact of chemical contaminants on Aboriginals in the Canadian Arctic and their food supply was recently released by the federal government. The study took five years to complete.

The Canadian Arctic Contaminant Assessment Report II (CACAR II) was conducted as part of the Northern Contaminant Program to address the exposure of many people living in Canada's north, many of whom are Inuit, to toxic contaminants in excess of federal guidelines.

The NCP, established in 1991, is a committee chaired by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND). Committee members include representatives of the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Dene First Nation, Inuit Tapiriit Knantami, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, territorial governments, Nunavik and several other ministries of the government of Canada.

Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the member of Parliament for Nunavut and the Parliamentary secretary of DIAND Minister Robert D. Nault, said the report provided a blueprint for how to deal with future health challenges in the region and was not just a record of past findings.

Several of these contaminants, including mercury, have no known natural source in the Arctic environment, according to the CACAR II. Scientists have long believed that contaminants have found their way into the food chain and have adversely affected the health of northern inhabitants. The Inuit and other aboriginals were at a higher risk because of their dependence on traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping.

The report calls for more research on the issue of northern contamination and has tied prenatal exposure to mercury and PCBs to "subtle" nervous system and behavioral effects in the Innu population of the Nunavik region of northern Quebec.

These "subtle" effects in the affected Innu communities included low birth weights and impeded cognitive development on a level "comparable to those with prenatal exposure to alcohol and smoking during pregnancy."

Diane Laursen, a DIAND media spokesperson, told ICT that the study had cost $5.4 million (Cdn.) or $3.7 million (USD) annually for a total of $27 million (Cdn.) or $18.3 million (USD).

Overall, the CARC II said that mercury levels in northern wildlife have increased two or three times in the past 25 years and exceed the daily and weekly levels established by Health Canada and the World Health organization.

Copies of the CACAR II are available by contacting the DIAND at (819) 953-8109.

Anawak is out

IQALUIT, Nunavut - An outspoken critic of the territorial government of Premier Paul Okalik has been removed from his cabinet position of Minister of Government.

A March 11 announcement said Jack Anawak, member of the Legislative Assembly for the Rankin Inlet district had been kicked out of the cabinet for publicly criticizing Okalik's plans to move jobs out of his district to the town of Baker Lake.

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The number of jobs lost in the community is not large relative to larger urban centers in southern Canada or the United States, but the mostly Inuit population of the entire territory is only about 25,000 so the impact is magnified.

"I couldn't stay silent," Anawak told reporters of the jobs with the territories Petroleum Products Division.

The motion to remove Anawak was made by Hunter Tootoo, who represents a district in the territorial capitol of Iqaluit. He said Anawak was not a team player.

"Perhaps all the ministers won't agree all the time, but once a decision is made all ministers must publicly support it," Tootoo told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The motion passed by an 11-6 margin.

For his part, Okalik has been reported to have become frustrated with the media attention on the issues and has told reporters he is tired of answering questions about Anawak and considers the issue closed.

Anawak will continue to hold his seat in the legislature and said he feels he can be effective.

M?tis Nation cases go to Supreme Court of Canada

OTTAWA - Two cases on key M?tis rights issues were heard in the Supreme Court of Canada on March 17 and 18

The cases, R. v. Powley and R. v. Blais, are seeking to establish M?tis harvesting rights under section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and whether or not the M?tis are "Indians" for the purposes of the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement.

General Counsel of the M?tis National Council Jason Madden, in a letter to the MNC on the status of the cases, said they will have an impact on the entire M?tis Nation and not just Ontario and Manitoba where the cases originated.

"These decisions will have immediate consequences on the specific legal issues raised in these cases," said Madden. "However, the principles and framework established by the court will also influence all on-going and future M?tis litigation."

According to Madden, the key to winning Powley is based on the precedent established in lower courts that confirmed the M?tis right to harvest food and that harvesting was essential to their communities. Another big issue supported by lower court rulings is the M?tis assertion that only they have the right to determine who is a member of the nation and as a result who can exercise M?tis harvesting rights.

Blais has not fared as well in the lower courts. This case is challenging rulings that have said the M?tis are not Indians and therefore not provided the opportunity to hunt, fish, and trap on unoccupied Crown lands.

In both cases, the provinces have gained intervention status allowing for key precedents to be set either way when the litigation is decided.

A statement from the MNC immediately following the hearings said their legal team had presented solid arguments and that they expected to win the case.

Food Mail gets more cash

WHITEHORSE, Yukon - A federal program to bring nutritious perishable foods to isolated northern communities will see its funding grow to meet shipping rate increases that have risen for the past nine years.

The government of Canada announced on March 17 that it would increase its commitment to the Food Mail service by $12 million annually to $27.6 million. The service has allowed perishable foods and other items to be shipped through Canada Post to isolated communities in the north by plane. According to a statement from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the program's subsidies that offset the cost of bringing healthy perishable foods to these communities allow merchants there to sell at a more affordable cost.

"The Food Mail program is an important element in our continuing efforts to improve the health of our northern communities," said Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Minister Robert Nault. "In northern communities, fresh affordable food and other essential items from the south are an important compliment to traditional Aboriginal foods."

A new pilot program began in January to reduce the postage rate charged for priority perishable foods from $.80 per kilogram to $.30 per kilogram and $.75 in the reserve community of Fort Severn, Ontario.

Priority perishable foods include fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen juice concentrate, most dairy products, and eggs.

Ex-cops lose appeal

REGINA, Saskatchewan - Two former Regina police officers Dan Hatchen and Ken Munson were convicted of unlawful confinement more than a year ago after dumping Darrel Night from their police cruiser in sub-zero temperatures. They contended that Night had asked to be dropped off so he could walk home, something he consistently denied.

Defense lawyers argued that the former police officers had acted legally by detaining Night despite the fact he was arrested after being mistaken for someone else. Lawyers Morris Bondar and Bill Roe told the Canadian Press wire service that their clients have lost their jobs, reputations, and are in danger of losing their family homes.

The report did not mention the injuries suffered by Night as a result of the incident, but did refer to an RCMP task force that was set up to examine the tense relationship between aboriginals and police in Regina as well as the freezing deaths of three other aboriginal men that had contact with local police immediately preceding their deaths dating back to 1991.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada within 60 days of the March 13 ruling.