Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This Hydro partnership is working

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Will Braun, of the Interchurch Task Force on Hydropower, in his commentary Dam deal loses shine (May 24), condemned the Wuskwatim project. Your readers should have the facts about Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation's partnership with Manitoba Hydro.

First, echoes of the past: In the 1990s, opponents maintained we had "settled for something far less than what (we) were originally promised" when we signed on to the 1996 Northern Flood Agreement. We were portrayed as naive puppets of government and Manitoba Hydro, "being led -- like children -- into agreements that sacrifice the future of our communities in return for little more than beads or trinkets."

Then, as now, I feel such portrayals do a disservice to my community, which voted for the agreement to build a better future.

We find it outrageous that Braun represents the people whose residential school policies helped to destroy the fabric of our communities. As my colleague Coun. D'Arcy Linklater puts it, we are trying hard to restore our spiritual, political and economic sovereignty and we wonder why people persist with paternalistic attitudes, creating turmoil in our community by questioning economic-development decisions made with the support of our people.

By now, most Manitobans are aware of the tragic history we endured in the development of hydro in this province. We have tried to overcome this history of mistrust and move forward as a modern First Nation to create opportunities for our citizens. Since 1996, we have used the compensation from past flooding from hydroelectric projects to provide millions of dollars in programs and services for our people. We have invested in businesses that employ other Manitobans and we have used the profits of those businesses to create jobs in our community.

At one time, we were 100 per cent dependent on the federal government for our funding. That is no longer the case. Our agreements with Hydro, including the Wuskwatim project, are part of this success story.

In 2006, we voted to authorize our council to sign the Wuskwatim Project Development Agreement. As with any business deal, we explained there were risks involved. Like many projects built over the past decade, capital costs escalated and interest rates, exchange rates and export sales fluctuated. No one foresaw the 2008 global recession and its lingering effects, nor the impact new technologies, such as fracking for natural gas, would have on export electricity rates.

We need more control over our lands and resources to further develop our economy. We are not so naive as to think the Wuskwatim project will end the poverty many of our citizens live with daily. But we believe it is one more step in the right direction. We are proud of our partnership with Manitoba Hydro. While we do not always view things the same way, we can say categorically the people at Manitoba Hydro have tried to ensure there will be benefits for our people, today and tomorrow.

Based on the assumptions made before the 2006 vote, we projected we would have about $7 million available annually from our two hydro-related trusts until our Wuskwatim investment loans were paid off. We understood that because hydro projects are capital-intensive, losses would occur in the early years and we negotiated arrangements to respond to those realities.

We have invested millions of dollars of our own money in this project by carefully managing our resources. Contrary to Braun's assertions, we are on track to receive money annually, and once the loans are repaid, the payments will grow. They may not be as high as projected; this depends on events in the North American economy.

In the meantime, we will have funds to address serious infrastructure and housing issues in our community and to invest in other ventures similar to those we already own, such as the Mystery Lake Hotel, Meetah Building Supplies, and our Family Foods stores in Thompson and Nelson House.

Our critics operate without full knowledge, making inaccurate or misleading statements that cause turmoil in our community. Like other First Nations, NCN is trying to overcome years of poverty, injustice and exploitation. Again, to quote my colleague, Coun. Linklater: "While we cannot ignore the effects of colonization, we can learn from it for the benefit of all Manitobans."

Participation in resource development is one of the few significant opportunities we have, and it benefits all North Americans. We suggest Braun heed his own advice to his church leaders and "promote open, non-polarized discussion of Hydro issues." Unfortunately, given past history, we doubt that he or others who have been campaigning against hydro development in northern Manitoba will change.

Time will prove they are wrong, just as critics of our earlier hydro deals were wrong. I hope Manitobans will ignore these critics who do us a disservice. Our citizens deserve to be proud of the fact we could overcome such a negative history and move forward for the betterment of all Manitobans.

 

Marcel Moody is chief of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. He is a member of the board of directors of the General Partner of the Wuskwatim Power Limited Partnership. He was NCN's lead negotiator for the 1996 NFA Implementation Agreement and was a member of the negotiating team for the Wuskwatim Project Development Agreement.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 0

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