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Evidence of meeting #35 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was kahnawake.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bartholomew J. Tsannie  Chief, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation
Anne Robillard  General Manager, Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership
Clinton Phillips  Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
Debbie Morris  Associate Director, Lands Unit, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
Diane McDonald  Land-Use Coordinator, Prince Albert Grand Council
Paul Denechezhe  Councillor, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

So are you saying that the chief is just kind of a title and that you have to...?

4:30 p.m.

A voice

Hey....

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Payne.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

All right. Thank you very much.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Chief.

We will turn to Mr. Genest-Jourdain for five minutes.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Good afternoon, Chief Phillips and Ms. Morris.

In reading over the document on your community, some things jumped out at me, including the recent and past occupation of your ancestral lands. Years ago, some companies did certain things, such as releasing 5,000 kilos of benzene and 250,000 kilos of toluene into the environment. Other studies pointed to lead contamination in your community, and its potential effects on aquatic life, amongst other things.

I would like to know whether this information is accurate, and what effect this contamination has had on your land and how this might affect its economic development.

4:30 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

As per Indian Affairs studies, we have eight documented contaminated sites within that 24-square mile radius, which is Kahnawake. I don't know if it's the reality, but people say that in North America it's one of the highest concentrations of contaminated soil in any community. I'm including Mexico in that figure. So that says a lot, doesn't it?

I'll toss something else in there. It has to do with contaminated land sites and it also has to do with what I talked about earlier about lengthy land leases. The Kanawaki Golf Club has a hundred-year lease. That hundred years comes to an end in 2021. In 1972 they renegotiated a 25-year extension clause, so that brings them up to 2046. The Minister of Indian Affairs is a signatory of that documentation.

I have a problem with this. Kahnawake has a problem with this. The contamination there is probably not any fault of the golf course currently, but for 20, 30, 40, and 50 years, there were no guidelines on what could be spread there in terms of getting the grass as green at it looks today. You'll never see that colour of green anywhere in the world but at that golf course—you can probably see it from the moon.

But it's contaminated, and contaminated to the point where environmentalists would be concerned if somebody were to build a home there and let children play on the grass. So that's another example of the problems we face in terms of environment and our lands. And it's not just that, not just the golf course, but the private dump sites that were opening throughout the sixties and seventies. It's just terrible. You would never want your child to play in there.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

I also know that a committee on the protection of the environment, which is part of a network of ecological groups, was created in your community. What is the expertise of this organization and what role does it play in your community? Is Safety-Kleen Systems still located near your community?

4:35 p.m.

Associate Director, Lands Unit, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Debbie Morris

Oh, yes; yes, they are. They come in and pick things up.

Our environment office actually was born because of the contaminated sites. It was a grassroots movement where, actually, a group of women said no more to this dumping of contaminants. As we were saying earlier, who knows what is dumped there? We don't know. Pharmaceutical waste, chemical waste, medical waste, everything you can think of is dumped there.

When this ended up happening, in 1987 the office was born. Currently there is an environmental coordinator. Her name is Eva Johnson. You may have heard of her. She is very prominent within a lot of environmental circles. There's a woman named Lynn Jacobs. She has her master's in environmental science, I think. There's also Holly McComber. Basically it's those three people along with an administrative assistant.

They do a lot of work to ensure that our community remains as pristine as possible and that we preserve the lands we have. There are studies going on with regard to species at risk. Being an isolated area, we do have a good number of species at risk there. A lot of protection goes on there.

What was the other part of the question?

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

It was on Safety-Kleen Systems.

4:35 p.m.

Associate Director, Lands Unit, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Debbie Morris

Yes. They do come in. They also manage our solid waste and do regular garbage pickup. A recycling program has been developed, where they go door to door to pick up all the recycling material. There's also a transfer depot. Community members are able to bring their household hazardous waste there.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. Morris.

Thank you, Mr. Genest-Jourdain.

We'll turn to Mr. Clarke for five minutes.

May 15th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming.

Chief Phillips, and Chief Tsannie, thank you for coming, and thank you to the elder as well for coming here to testify today before the committee.

I have a couple of things to say, Chief Phillips. During our study, we travelled in British Columbia, and in Saskatchewan just last week. We saw some of the economic benefits. But it's also been quite disheartening. We travelled to Muskeg Lake and to the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. With my home first nations, we had the opportunity to build a casino right in Saskatoon. However, what transpired with that and the City of Saskatoon is neither here nor there.

But we saw the opportunity that the Whitecap Dakota had and the steps they had taken to build a casino about 20 minutes outside the city limits. We've seen now the economic benefits, such as a golf course, which I believe will be paid off next year. I believe it's six or seven years that it's been in play. They're making arrangements to build a new clubhouse, but first they want to pay off the mortgage so that they can have a mortgage-burning party—and then go back into debt again and build a new clubhouse.

We've also seen, in terms of economic benefits, that they're proposing a new multi-unit hotel with major, major conference centres that will outshine Saskatoon, or anything that's available in Saskatoon.

Now, you've mentioned a couple of times here, just in regard to some economic development opportunities...and in terms of the casino, it's disheartening, seeing about $50 million go out the door. But you mentioned, too, another $50 million just with regard to a seaport.

With the ATR, I'm just wondering what other opportunities your band is looking at in terms of economic opportunities. Like, we hear about these big million-dollar opportunities. Can you provide some examples, first, of the type of moneys the first nation is bringing in currently, second, how they are addressing the needs of maybe enhancing further land in their community?

4:40 p.m.

Council Chief, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake

Chief Clinton Phillips

On an active level, Kahnawake owns MIT, Mohawk Internet Technologies. We're not part of the gambling aspect of MIT, but we own the facility. It's kind of like we own an airport, but we're not charging Delta and Air Canada to fly in and out—it's solely rents. I believe it's a little over $3 million that Kahnawake pulls in annually as a result of MIT.

The money that MIT generates is going to help us offset a lot of the costs of running Kahnawake. I think our annual budget is about $40 million to keep the streets clean and the ambulances and fire trucks and the school system running.

You know, in Kahnawake, we're very, very fortunate. I've travelled across Indian country in Canada and the United States.... We have our own hospital. We have a 43-bed hospital on the reserve. We are in the middle of expansion to I think 72 beds in total. We have rehabilitation. We have extended adult care. We have elder care. We have our own high school. We have our elementary schools. We have five schools within the territory of Kahnawake.

So in terms of what we have, it's huge—huge—compared to other reserves. There's a price to have all that. There's a price, and it's getting more and more difficult to zero-balance. I'm pleased to say that in this past fiscal the band council was able to zero-balance. We keep getting recognition from Ottawa in regard to being able to do that. We're one of the few that can do that, due to sound and good money management.

Like it is for everyone else in the real world, every day it gets harder and harder to make ends meet. We're no different.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Okay.

Chief Tsannie, in regard to first nations land management, do you have anyone in place right now who—for one—has taken the course? Also, with the economic development.... I understand how remote Fond du Lac, Wollaston Lake, and Black Lake are. In trying to purchase land, what opportunities are you taking right now to acquire lands or what types of business have you acquired off the reserve for economic development?

4:40 p.m.

Chief, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation

Chief Bartholomew J. Tsannie

Like you said, the property is remote, here and everywhere, but towards the economics, we've been trying so hard to get other.... Right now, they are working on TLE, but you know....

For business, I think I'll have Anne respond on some of the economic opportunities we have.

4:40 p.m.

General Manager, Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership

Anne Robillard

Thank you, Mr. Clarke.

There are other opportunities that some communities have looked at and sought. There's tourism. For Hatchet Lake, our community, we have potential in marketing our fish, that is, with commercial fishing. Right now, we're working on our fish-packing plant and on upgrading it to a full processing plant. We have proposals out there and that could expand if we reach the federal standard. Provincially we're at the standard, but we're working towards the federal standard to market our fish outside Saskatchewan.

So that's what we're looking at aside from our business successes. These are our other opportunities. If we get our all-weather roads in, these are some of the things that we have potential in.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Clarke.

Mr. Bevington, for five minutes.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Marci Chogh to the delegates here. I come from north of you in the Northwest Territories, from Fort Smith, so I'm just a little downstream from Lake Athabasca. I certainly hear what you're saying.

I'm of course very interested in how you're doing with your development corporation. It's a similar model in the Northwest Territories with regard to a number of claims organizations that have settled claims.

I'm curious. What triggers and tools do you use to get the companies onside for supporting your businesses? Is it strictly a bidding process? Do you get any incentives through the land ownership, or through anything that comes from your treaty land entitlement, or from any of those aspects?

4:45 p.m.

General Manager, Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership

Anne Robillard

Maybe Diane can answer some of your questions. But right now we don't have anything in place whatsoever. The unity in our southern communities makes it a success, but we need to move forward. I have talked about transportation already, but Diane can help me answer some of that question.

4:45 p.m.

Chief, Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation

Chief Bartholomew J. Tsannie

Hatchet Lake and the other communities are the most impacted by the mines, because a few mines are right on Wollaston Lake, on the west and east coasts of that same lake.

Diane mentioned that we were not properly consulted in past years, but now they are coming to our tables and trying to negotiate economic opportunities and jobs and training with the industries here.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Well, I have to say that you've done very well, then, to establish the kinds of businesses that you have now, with the kind of yearly revenue that you're talking about. That's very impressive. I guess it must be part of your tenacity.

You mentioned the environmental impacts of the mines. I know, for instance, that the Fort Chipewyan people have quit fishing in the lake because of their concerns about the pollution from the oil sands. Do the people at the eastern end of the lake have similar issues?

4:45 p.m.

Land-Use Coordinator, Prince Albert Grand Council

Diane McDonald

I can speak to that, because I grew up on that lake. Certainly we're seeing changes to our lake, to Lake Athabasca, from the oil sands development. Our people who fish, who live off the land....

It's not only in that area. We're not exactly sure where it's coming from, but we know that there are abandoned mines, with effluent and tailings management from existing mines, from Gunnar and Larado, that have been seeping into our lakes for the last 50 years. To this day it's still happening.

So yes, we do have big environmental concerns. It does affect our people in terms of fishing and sustainability because it's killing our fish. There's evidence that fish are dying and fish are disappearing within those mine sites. And the water levels affect us on Lake Athabasca. Not only that, but the proposed B.C. hydro...could also have an impact on Lake Athabasca for us. There is concern about the project “C” that's undergoing environmental assessment in B.C.

I just want to elaborate a little bit more on your question about the tools and triggers in terms of a bidding process. Certainly there is no process in place, but with good corporate social responsibility from the companies, I think, under provincial legislation.... There's some legislation within Northern Development affairs that they have to have a northern contract in their uranium mines development. But that legislation is itself so outdated—it's been there for 20 or 30 years—it doesn't meet the standards of the current society.

Certainly one way of having to have different kinds of tools available for us in terms of economic development and cooperation is to have, as I said earlier, modern business partnerships with the existing mines and companies and to have an impact and benefit-sharing agreement. We do have an existing IMA, but it doesn't address the current needs and traditions of our people.

The mining companies understand that. Yes, they are prepared to renegotiate our existing impact management agreement, but one of the shortfalls we have in that process is negotiation funds for our people, to have some training funds towards renegotiating the impact management agreement. Aside from that, the companies are willing to provide all the resource dollars for the negotiation process. Certainly the downfall is in terms of the training, so that our negotiators can understand the different types of negotiations and the different types of impact management or benefit-sharing agreements. We need to understand what's going to work for us and what's not going to work for the mining companies. It works both ways. We need to have good understanding of those processes, including the world market in uranium mining.

We live right next door to these mines, and we wonder how a lot of their effluent or discharges affect the environment. But—

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Ms. McDonald.

We'll turn now to our next questioner, who is Mr. Boughen.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Thank you, Chair.

Let me add my voice of welcome to the panel and for your taking time this afternoon to visit with us. Certainly we appreciate the input that you're able to supply.

I'm looking at a couple of the questions I have here, and I understand that Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation and other members of the Athabasca region—Fond du Lac and Black Lake first nations, Stony Rapids, Uranium City, Camsell Portage, and Wollaston—have endorsed the Athabascan land use plan. This land use plan endorses the collective management of resources in the far north of the province in an integral and environmentally sound manner.

I'm interested in hearing from the panel on what factors led to the development of this plan. What prompted you to move into that plan, into that particular strategy?