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

Robert Taylor
4/30/03

Caravans converge on Ottawa

OTTAWA - Opposition to the First Nations Governance Act, also known as Bill C-7, remained high amongst many in the First nations and their supporters as they prepared to march on Ottawa to protest the legislation.

The Western Canada contingent left Vancouver April 22 led by Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. On April 26, the Eastern caravan headed toward Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, the site of a bitter lobster harvesting dispute with the federal fisheries ministry. Chief Roberta Jamieson of the Six Nations of the Grand was at the head of the column of Natives from Southern Ontario that left for Ottawa on April 27.

The caravans met at Victoria Island before proceeding to Parliament Hill where the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs that has been conducting a clause-by-clause examination of C-7.

The Assembly of First Nations also held a special confederacy at the Ottawa Marriott Hotel from April 29-30 to examine the current status of C-7, the Specific Claims Resolution Act (Bill C-6), and the Fiscal Institutions Act (Bill C-19).

AFN and other First Nations organizations have opposed the suite of legislation as infringements on treaty rights and described Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault's approach to the dispute as "colonial."

Deh Cho ink deal

FORT PROVIDENCE, Northwest Territory - An initial agreement between the Deh Cho First Nations and the Government of Canada that could have blocked the development of the $4 billion (Cdn.) Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project was signed April 17.

A key piece of the Deh Cho Process Interim Resource Development Agreement is the removal of over 70,000 square kilometers of Deh Cho land from future mineral exploration, an addition of 4,828 square kilometers to the Nahanni National Park.

An estimated 210,000 square kilometers of territory will remain subject to development.

The Deh Cho also gained a concession that will see them paid an amount equal to royalties from oil and gas production in the Mackenzie Valley collected by Ottawa, a percentage of which is slated for economic stimulation projects.

An Order-in-Council, similar to an Executive Order in the United States, has also granted the Deh Cho control over how their land is developed.

"In the vision of our ancestors, we will continue to walk the path with governments a journey of trust and mutual respect in our negotiations," said Deh Cho Grand Chief Michael Nadli.

Gwich'in and Inuvialuit move toward self-government

INUVIK, North West Territory - An agreement-in-principle (AIP) was reached earlier in April that clears the way fir the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit to obtain self-government.

On April 16, the Gwich'in Tribal Council, the Inuvialuit, Canada signed the AIP that will recognizes new legislative and administrative powers in the Beaufort-Delta region, including authority over culture, language, education, local government operations, training, child and family services, and health care.

The AIP provided for the establishment of a new public government structure which will also provide for guaranteed representation for Gwich'in and Inuvialuit.

Approximately 7,100 people live in he Beaufort-Delta communities of Alkali, Fort McPherson, Homan, Inuit, Palate, Sachs Harbor, Tsiigehchic, and Tukoyakuk. Gwich'in and Inuvialuit make up 75 percent of these residents.

The two First Nations began negotiating self-government agreements in 1995.

Natives reject fed proposal on consent forms

CALGARY, Alberta - There is little argument that drug abuse has become an issue in the First Nations, but a move by Health Canada to track prescription drug abuse in Canada is drawing harsh criticism by First Nations leaders in Alberta.

Spokesman Herman Wierenga of the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on April 14, figures on the non-insurance health benefits Natives receive as part of their treaty rights is needed to be able to track what drugs are dispensed and is requiring that Natives sign consent forms to release their information by Sept. 1.

Policy Advisor for Treaty Seven Norma Large, however, criticized the forms as granting unrestricted access to an individual Native's medical records.

"It's a blanket consent, it's being able to review our information from the time we're born until the time we die," Large said. "And I don't know if anybody would be willing to allow that and, in fact, former Health Minister Alan Rock said he would not sign this consent form.

"So if it's not good enough for that person, why is it good enough for the First Nations," asked Large.

A statement from Health Canada said the forms stipulate who exactly who would be able to see the information and that it would only be retained for seven years.

Large responded that there are better ways of dealing with prescription drug abuse by monitoring doctors, pharmacies, and addressing the causes of addiction.

The Health Canada measure was a recommendation made on April 10 by a federal judge investigating the prescription drug overdose deaths of two Natives on the Eden Valley reserve.

Kluane First Nation settlement reached

WHITEHORSE, Yukon - The Kluane First Nation, the territorial government, and the Government of Canada installed a self-government and land claim agreement on April 11.

According to a statement released by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the agreement will establish three "Special Management Areas" which are a territorial park in at the Klutlan (Asi Keyi) Glacier, a habitat protection area at Pickhandle Lake, and the Tachal region of the Kluane National Park.

The Kluane First Nation will also receive a reserve set at 352 square miles, 13.45 million (Cdn.) or $9.3 million (USD) adjusted for inflation over the next 15 years and a one-time payment of $2.99 million (Cdn.) or $2.1 million (USD) and an economic development package as part of the agreement.

The Kluane First Nation Agreement must now be sent to the territorial assembly and to the federal government for final ratification.

Cat Lake First Nation under state of emergency

OTTAWA - An outbreak of gastroenteritis on the Cat Lake First Nation reserve in northwestern Ontario caused by contaminated drinking water has caused the band to declare an on-going state of emergency.

The situation on the reserve deteriorated over the first two weeks of April as the community's sewage treatment facility suffered a complete shutdown and Health Canada was forced to close its nursing station on April 4 when raw sewage began flowing into the facility.

Health Canada has said there could be serious health consequences for the region if spring runoffs caused by the recent warm weather spread the contamination.

Cat Lake has been under a boil water advisory since March 2001.

Cat Lake Chief Wilfred Wesley has been petitioning Ottawa for aid to correct the situation since October 2002 but has not received any answer or help on the matter. Ironically, Robert Nault the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is the local member of Parliament representing the Cat Lake community.

Cat Lake First Nation Tribal councilor Vernon Wesley told ICT that several of the younger people on the reserve have gotten sick from drinking the tap water, but some progress is being made on fixing the filtering system that caused the problems with the assistance of other First Nations and Native organizations.

"He's not doing anything at all," said Wesley of Minister Nault. "He has other priorities right now."

Wesley said Cat Lake has been forced to move ahead on its own to correct the problem without federal aid and is waiting for its budget to be approved before completing its water treatment initiatives.

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