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Blockade Remains As Hydro CEO, Band Talk

Above Photo: CLARA MCLEOD PHOTO The blockade by Fox Lake Cree Nation began after members of the band discovered ceremonial land, adorned with prayer flags and tobacco ties, was destroyed.

Three sites subject to closure by members

A blockade to three Manitoba Hydro sites in northern Manitoba by the Fox Lake Cree Nation was still in effect early Friday evening as negotiations continued between band members and Hydro CEO Kelvin Shepherd.

Fox Lake Cree Nation Chief Walter Spence said talks with Shepherd had been on-going since 10:30 a.m. and would probably last until at least 10 p.m. Friday.

As of  7 p.m., Spence said the blockade near the remote First Nations community, located about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, was still in effect while Hydro officials huddled to go over Fox Lake’s demands, which included a commitment to breach the “broken trust” between the band and Crown corporation.

The blockade was first erected on Thursday at the junction of the reserve and Highway 290 after Spence said sacred ceremonial land near the site was desecrated. Access to Hydro’s Limestone Generation station, Keewatinohk Access Gate and Henday Converter Station was blocked.

Spence said the action was taken after members found ceremonial land adorned with prayer flags and tobacco ties had been destroyed. Several nearby trees were uprooted.

The flags and ties had been placed by members of the Cree Nation in November as part of a ground-breaking ceremony to honour the land before construction began by Manitoba Hydro on the reserve; Manitoba Hydro participated in the ceremony.

Hydro CEO Shepherd arrived at Fox Lake Friday morning at the band’s request.

Spence said the initial meeting between band members and the CEO was “heated and tense”. But, the chief added, “the tension diffused and we had more dialogue and more openness.”

Shepherd also met with band elders, who gave Shepherd an oral history of the effect of hydro construction projects on the community. “That made most of the members say, ‘Yes, he’s genuine,'” Spence said.

However, the chief said unless Shepherd can commit to improving communication between the corporation – including future trips to Fox Lake to meet with leaders – the blockade will continue.

“It really depends on the outcome of this (Friday) evening,” Spence noted.

Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said negotiations will continue.

“We remain optimistic that that we can resolve the issues with regard to both the ceremonial site and blockade as quickly as possible,” Powell said, adding: “Our investigation into what happened at the ceremonial site is ongoing.

The blockade hasn’t impacted ongoing work at the three sites as the workers live in camps on the sites, but has blocked access in and out of the sites for Hydro’s 280 workers.

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