19 November 2010

Aboriginal land claims remain substantial barrier to Williams’ legacy plan

Innu leader Joseph Roche may have been at the news conference announcing something or other about Muskrat Falls but, as he told the invite-only audience, the whole thing isn’t going anywhere until the Innu land claims issues are settled.

"One of the key outstanding issues now is the consent of our Innu people," Riche said.

"But we cannot do that yet, we need the federal government to resolve outstanding issues for our land rights agreement … it has been thirty years in the making and we have lost many of our elders and leaders in that time. Without this, the Lower Churchill project can not proceed." [cbc.ca/nl]

Riche was one of the invitees and the provincial government distributed a backgrounder on Innu issues.  But, as Premier Danny Williams knows already, the New Dawn agreement is stone cold dead. Riche reportedly put a damper on the excitement at the hotel news conference when he reminded people this thing wasn’t close to being a deal as far as Innu were concerned.

Chief Riche was talking about issues with the federal government, a key player the provincial government left out of the talks to this point.  That’s just one of the problems.  There is a substantial opposition within the Innu community to the project self and they aren’t interested in seeking anything happen on the river, period, full-stop, end of story, do-not-pass go and forget about the two hundred bucks.

And for those who missed it, someone seems to think that by selecting Muskrat falls as the first site, that will outflank the Innu opposition.  Elizabeth Penashue’s annual walk to Gull island doesn’t mean that Muskrat Falls isn’t as important.

The Innu aren’t the only aboriginal group with a claim that needs attention.

So far the provincial government has ignored the Metis of Labrador even though the Lower Churchill dams would be within the Metis claim area.  What’s worse for Williams is that the Metis are still smarting over his broken election promise from 2003 or his comment in 2009 that the project needed the Innu but not the Metis.

Other Premiers have long under-estimated the challenges of aboriginal land claims issues.  At the time he announced a memorandum of understanding to do way more that Danny Williams proposed, Premier Brian Tobin boasted he could finish a land claims deal with the Innu in 12 weeks.

That was 12 years ago. 

And Tobin’s proposal had a far more substantial basis for agreement than a terms sheet.

- srbp -