The emerging right of First Nations to consultation and accommodation concerning developments on their traditional territories may yet delay or halt planning for major new energy developments in Bruce County, one native leader says.
Representatives of Enbridge Ontario Wind Power LP and Saugeen Ojibway Nation signed a consultation agreement Friday for a wind farm development now under construction in southern Bruce County. The signing ceremony at Saugeen band headquarters included an exchange of gifts and traditional prayers in both Ojibway and English under the direction of former Chippewas of Nawash chief Paul Nadjiwan.
The document on the table involved one of the country’s largest wind turbine developments, but there’s a great deal more at stake. Both Saugeen Chief Randall Kahgee and Nawash Chief Ralph Akiwenzie spoke afterward about the importance of Friday’s Enbridge agreement as an example for development in the region.
Kahgee spoke about three major energy projects for the region – a Hydro One proposal to expand transmission lines from the Bruce nuclear site, proposed new Bruce Power nuclear reactors and an Ontario Power Generation plan to bury low-level radioactive waste at Bruce.
“Obviously, we’re looking for a deep level of participation in these processes because we have substantial concerns that need to be addressed,” Kahgee said. “As First Nations we don’t have the luxury of dealing in what-ifs. Is this going to harm us in any way and, if so, can it be mitigated and if it can’t, can it go forward? Those kinds of discussions can’t be stifled.”
The Nawash and Saugeen First Nations and Enbridge started talking about a year ago. Construction began in July on a 110-turbine wind farm development despite objections from area residents in the former Bruce Township area of Kincardine.
The turbines are to be erected in April and begin producing power next summer. Friday’s agreement requires the company to continue consultations with First Nations representatives during construction and throughout the project’s expected 20-year operating lifetime.
It requires the company to consult the first nations about protecting the environment and aboriginal heritage sites. Enbridge director of power generation Scott Dodd said the agreement requires his company to “make sure it’s a good project for the environment.” Enbridge is a major supplier of natural gas and has “a long history of working with First Nations” on projects throughout Canada, Dodd said.
Kahgee objected to a reporter’s characterization of the agreement as an endorsement of the project by the Saugeen Ojibway. The agreement spells out a monitoring program to study the impact of turbine operations on fish and wildlife. In interviews, both chiefs underlined the importance of environmental considerations.
“Number one is always the environment,” Akiwenzie said. “We feel we have a special relationship with Mother Earth and Mother Earth has to be protected but at the same time there are certain developments taking place within our territories.”
The Saugeen and Nawash First Nations settled on reserves in Bruce County after the surrender of land in what later became Grey and Bruce counties. The surrender occurred under terms of an 1836 treaty with the British colonial government and two later treaties. Both of the later treaties are the subject of continuing lawsuits and a multibillion dollar land claim.
Both First Nations also claim a right of consultation and accommodation involving developments on their traditional lands. The Enbridge agreement recognizes that right and may set a pattern.
Kahgee is also a practising lawyer who specializes in aboriginal rights. His work has helped develop the emerging concept of a Crown duty to consult with First Nations people.
First elected in June of 2006, Kahgee was raised on the Saugeen Reserve but has practised law in recent years with the leading aboriginal rights firm of Pape, Salter, Teillet, which has offices in Toronto and Vancouver. He was part of the legal team that took two landmark cases to the Supreme Court of Canada, Taku and Haida.
Those cases yielded decisions he says lay out the Crown duty to consult on anything that “might impact on a First nations’ rights, claims and way of life.” In recent months, Saugeen and Nawash have begun asserting the right in developments in Bruce County.
They have questioned the issuance of building permits on lots in the Greenough Harbour development on the Bruce Peninsula. As well, First Nations leaders expect to play a leading role in major energy developments in the region.
Kahgee expressed disappointment that the provincial and federal governments chose not to participate in the Saugeen-Enbridge agreement. Such talks can help avoid explosive confrontations such as the continuing events on Six Nations territory at Caledonia, he said.
Regarding energy projects in the region, Kahgee said First Nations participation will be crucial. There have been continuing talks for three years with Ontario Power Generation over its controversial waste burial plan.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with what they’re putting forward,” Kahgee said. “It’s a huge concept to put something in the ground that’s expected to be safe for many thousands of years. In my opinion what it’s going to require if it’s going to go forward is in many ways almost a new treaty.”
That’s because participants in the surrender treaty could never have anticipated future use of the territory such as what is now proposed, Kahgee said.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We’re now looking closely at how we’re going to be a part of shaping that process, not just participating but actually shaping that process.”
By Jim Agie
24 November 2007
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