August 14, 2009
Native protesters blockade Manitoba dam project, Friday, August 14, 2009, CBC News
A blockade is erected at the entrance to Wuskwatim Dam construction site.A blockade is erected at the entrance to Wuskwatim Dam construction site. (Submitted by Chris Byrne)
Members of a First Nation are blocking access to a $1.3-billion hydroelectric development project in northern Manitoba.
Some members of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) near Nelson House, Man., have blocked construction access to the Wuskwatim Dam project, a 200-megawatt generating station that is being built by Manitoba Hydro at Taskinigup Falls on the Burntwood River.
The group is allowing people to walk through the barricade but is preventing vehicles from passing, a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro said. There are about 150 workers on the site who cannot leave because of the blockade.
RCMP are on the scene montioring the situation.
Protesters set up camp on the access road to Wuskwatim Dam construction site. Protesters set up camp on the access road to Wuskwatim Dam construction site. (Submitted by Chris Byrne)
The protesters say Manitoba Hydro is not living up to an agreement to provide jobs to members of the local band. They maintain that at least one-third of workers are supposed to be from the local area.
A spokesman for the protesters, Conrad Spence, said the group feels jobs that were promised them have been taken by out-of-province workers.
"[Premier] Gary Doer promised Manitoba and NCN jobs," said Spence. "Why is there 200 or 400 jobs taken from Alberta and Quebec?"
Manitoba Hydro said there are about 300 aboriginal workers at Wuskwatim, of whom about 44 are from Nisichawayasihk. Manitoba Hydro added that it does not believe the protest is sanctioned by the chief and council of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.
NCN Chief Jim Moore said he wants to help the protestors get some answers. He said he's been in touch with Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
The demonstrators want Doer and Hydro chairman Bob Brennan involved.
The Wuskwatim Dam project is a joint venture between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.The Wuskwatim Dam project is a joint venture between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. (CBC)
"They want to be heard," said Moore. "They want to make sure that the issues are not just innuendos, that … people should look into and solidify whether, in fact, these things are happening."
Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said first preference for jobs on the dam site is given to northern aboriginals.
"And if there are no qualified candidates, we go down to different categories," he said.
No specific preference is given to the NCN band, which is grouped together with other native communities from the north.
"This gets complex. Are they available when you call them?" Schneider asked.
Hydro has job training facilities at Nelson House and in the community of Split Lake.
The dam is being developed as a joint venture between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree — the first time the Crown-owned utility has entered into an equity partnership with a First Nations community on a generating project.
Construction of the dam and generating station, about 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is due to be completed in 2011.
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