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

Mackenzie Valley Project may get Help

OTTAWA - Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault has reversed an earlier position and may be prepared to contribute to Aboriginal efforts involved with the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project with cash and loan guarantees.

In a press conference in Ottawa on April 8, Nault said the government of Canada wants to facilitate Aboriginal participation in economic development and that the loan guarantees constitute "market distorting" subsidies proposed by American developers that want an alternative route for a pipeline through Alaska.

"Obviously, if there are loan guarantees, we don't believe that skews the marketplace, and obviously Canada has been involved in loan guarantees ourselves in an ad hoc way over the last number of years," said Nault.

The Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG), the Aboriginal-owned company seeking one-third ownership of the pipeline, had previously been turned away for financial support by Ottawa.

In November 2002, Energy Minister Herb Dhaliwal told APG that the Government of Canada doesn't "finance pipelines and ? (doesn't) fund loan guarantees."

Nault's only answer when pressed why his position was different from that of Dhaliwal was to say that Canada was committed to ensuring that northern Natives benefited from natural gas development in the Arctic.

Snuneymuxw First Nation nears Land Claim Agreement

NANAIMO, British Columbia - The Snuneymuxw First Nation has reached a tentative agreement on a land claim, the first in the province in five years, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The details of the agreement were not scheduled to be released until later in April, but the CBC was able to obtain an advance copy of the agreement-in-principle. Highlights of the agreement are:

*Increasing the size of the reservation to 5,000 hectares from its current size of approximately 250 hectares;

*Giving the band exclusive fishing rights around the city of Nanaimo;

*Letting the band collect property taxes on their land;

*Guaranteeing the band a share of revenue from timber and other resources taken from their traditional territory.

The 1,300 members of the Snuneymuxm must now ratify the agreement-in-principle.

The agreement is significant because, as the CBC pointed out, it will likely serve as a model for future and pending agreements in British Columbia including its territory acquisition, taxation, and resource rights.

The Snuneymuxm agreement is one of the first negotiated in British Columbia that involves a band in close proximity to a large urban center like Nanaimo, a port city on Vancouver Island with a population of around 70,000.

Canada to back Native Takeover of Forestry Company

MOOSE FACTORY, Ontario - Reg Blair, the member of Parliament for the northern Ontario district of Timmins-James Bay, announced on March 24 that Ottawa is providing $450,000 (Cdn.) to help the Moose Cree First Nation buy an Ontario forestry company.

According to a press release from Indian and Northern Affairs, the band is trying to buy CS Enterprises, a forestry contractor in northeastern Ontario. The plan behind the acquisition is to help the Moose Cree manage nearly 1.1 million hectares of forest in their territory north of Cochrane, Ontario.

INAC estimated that there is an allocation of 204,800 cubic meters of harvestable timber in that area.

Moose Cree First Nation Chief Norm Hardsity said the acquisition of the company was "a good match" for his people.

"As we strive to build a healthier, more self-reliant community, this initiative will create employment opportunities for interested band members," said Hardisty.

In terms of jobs, the CS acquisition will create an immediate 16 jobs with annual salaries of more than $360,000 (Cdn.) with the chance of another 86 jobs being added over the long haul.

The Moose Cree First nation is located approximately 200 miles north of Timmins, Ontario, about 12 miles south of James Bay, and has a non-reserve population of 1,388.

Flowers in Iqaliut?

IQALUIT, Nunavut - One of the last places one would expect to find a story about gardening would be in Iqaliut, but a group of local residents is looking to start a community garden.

The climate and soil do not support horticulture so the Iqaluit Greenhouse Society has proposed a greenhouse in this Arctic community to plant flowers and vegetables.

A feasibility study and the specifics of the project are currently being developed with reports expected sometime in May.

The project reportedly is under consideration as an educational resource and a meeting facility for elders.

Iqaluit has a population of 6,000 and is the largest community in Nunavut with a total population of approximately 28,000. It is located on Baffin Island northeast of Hudson's Bay just below the Arctic Circle.

National Chief in Europe

OTTAWA - Matthew Coon Come, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, began a tour of Europe on April 3 to create awareness of the socio-economic conditions in the First Nations of Canada and the failure of governments to live up to their treaty responsibilities.

A statement from the AFN, Canada's largest Aboriginal rights advocacy group, said Coon Come will be meeting with senior officials, academics, policy makers, human rights organizations, and the European media in the United Kingdom, France and the United Nations in Geneva.

The public events on the tour were:

*A press conference in London in Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada;

*A seminar on the economic situation of the First Nations in Canada at the University of London;

*A plenary address to the 28th British Association of Canadian Studies Annual Conference at the University of Leeds;

*A press conference for the French Foreign Press Association in Paris;

*A conference/address on the economic status and survivability of the First nations in Canada at La Maison de l'Am?rique Latine in Paris; at an unconfirmed address to the UN in Geneva.

The AFN under Coon Come's leadership have led the attack on the attack on the proposed First Nations Governance Act (Bill C-7) that it and other critics will take government control away from the First Nations and place it in the hands of bureaucrats.