Historic hydro partnership

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An historic joint project between Ontario's hydroelectric corporation (OPG) and a northern First Nation has seen the first of four power station upgrades on the Lower Mattagami River, which flows into James Bay, go online on time and on budget, bringing money and more affordable electricity to surrounding communities and industry. The Moose Cree First Nation has a twenty-five per cent stake in the multi-year, $2.6 billion project, with the additional benefits of jobs, training, and stewardship of the resources involved. In addition, Moose Cree businesses have won $300 million worth of sub-contracts associated with the project.

The project, about 80 kilometres north of Kapuskasing, is also environmentally sustainable: three power stations will be refurbished and one new one will be built beside the site of an existing one that is being decommissioned. It's Northern Ontario's first major hydro project in 40 years and will generate enough clean electricity to power 300,000 homes. The province wants to replace coal powered energy plants with renewable sources such as wind, water, and solar power. Furthermore, because the sites are existing stations, it minimizes the environmental impact by avoiding the need to build new dams and flood more land.

Part of the agreement was a ground-breaking training program called "Sibi," a Cree word for river. Sibi involved OPG, Moose Cree First Nation, the multinational Kiewit Alarie Partnership, a global construction company, the Canadian government, trade unions, and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. Sibi provided apprenticeship and training opportunities to the members of Moose Cree, Taykwa Tagamou Nation, MoCreebec, and Metis people of the Lower Moose River area. Over the course of the project, nine Aboriginal people achieved trade certifications and membership in the Iron Workers Union and the Operators Engineers Union. This model will be used by OPG in upcoming power projects including the refurbishment of Darlington power station. Numerous other Aboriginal men and women received training and certifications through the Sibi program.

One of the stations being refurbished, Smoky Falls, was built in the 1920s to supply power to the Kapuskasing Pulp and Paper Company, which was co-owned by the New York Times.

Negotiations between the Ontario government and the Moose Cree have been off and on since the 1980s when the project was first considered, and broke down in the mid-90s. But, in 2005, the parties came back and the agreement was struck. The Moose Cree and their Chief Norman Hardisty Jr, first elected in 2000 and re-elected several times since, have also negotiated agreements with DeBeers and with gold mining concerns in the area.

The Moose Cree are not the only First Nation getting into the sustainable energy business. While many bands still live in desperate circumstances, without clean water or reliable electricity at all, let alone clean energy, some have been able to join government initiatives encouraging them to develop energy resources on their traditional territories.

The Lower Mattagami energy project is a stellar example of good First Nations governance and foresight. Businesses like this, and the Cape Croker campground, allow Aboriginal people to enjoy thier land and share its bounty in ways that do not destroy it. For a sustainable future, it beats the hell out of a casino....

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