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Courts have cleared the path for Bipole III to cross an aboriginal treaty land claim

MANITOBA courts have cleared the path for Bipole III to cross an aboriginal treaty land claim.

The ruling came down last week against legal objections from a First Nation with a massive claim — some 417,000 hectares of Crown land the transmission line cuts through.

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation Chief Nelson Genaille, who filed the case on behalf of the community located south of Lake Winnipegosis, said Monday the decision was a bitter disappointment.

“I was hoping and I was expecting that justice would be done. When I got the ruling I was as mad as hell,” Genaille said.

The legal battle came to a head over the issue of an injunction to stop Bipole III.

“We’re pleased that the motion for an injunction was dismissed,” Manitoba Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said.

The same land is also claimed by Manitoba Métis.

Métis crews are the loggers under contract with Hydro who are cutting the line through the bush, an apparent clash of aboriginal values that’s not lost on either the First Nation or the Métis.

“It’s clearly, without question, the Métis breadbasket and our right to the land is no less than the First Nation. We have a business relationship with Hydro right now,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

A crew of 50, predominantly Métis, is cutting a path through the 200-kilometre stretch of Crown land.

Powell confirmed the MMF, through an economic development corporation, won the contract to do the cutting.

Métis N4 Construction Inc. is a for-profit share capital corporation wholly owned by the MMF.

Late last year, the tiny rural community of Sapotaweyak waded in, filing a motion for an injunction against both Hydro and the province.

For Genaille, the issue isn’t who does the cutting — it’s that plant and animal habitats will be destroyed and the Cree will lose both. “It’s a divide and conquer process but regardless of that, once the damage to the land is done, it’s done,” Genaille said. “Hydro has used that to their advantage. They say the Métis are benefiting from it.”

MMF president David Chartrand said Sapotaweyak rights to the land don’t need to clash with Métis rights.

“I’ve been asking for 10 years, asking the chiefs and the grand chiefs to sit down with us. (Now) the courts are telling us very clearly our rights are no less than theirs. There will be a time and it’s coming around the corner… when our governments get together. We’re both aboriginal. The Métis and First Nations need to start talking; this is the future,” Chartrand said.

The ruling, delivered in writing Jan. 14, also means the First Nation will likely see settlement of its land claims put on hold.

“My client is still considering their position on the matter, whether it’s an appeal or pursuing relief in a statement of claim,” Sapotaweyak lawyer Harley Schachter said Monday.

Queen Bench Justice Donald Bryk said in the ruling he would file written reasons for his decision at a later date.

For Manitoba Hydro, the decision means the crews will now continue work in an area they call N-4. The two current work locations are south of The Pas and north of Swan River.

The Métis signed a $20-million deal to fund ongoing talks between the MMF and Hydro over impacts related to Bipole III and other developments from Keeyask to Conawapa, plus the logging contract.

Winnipeg Free Press



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