First Nations pitch energy corridor to power infrastructure, jobs

The proposed project would power, among other things, a fibre-optic network, an all-weather road and a pipeline to transport Alberta hydrogen.

A new energy corridor proposed by a coalition of Indigenous communities in Manitoba would span three provinces.

The Wáwátéwák Corridor Project, which means northern lights in Cree, would power an electric transmission line to support infrastructure development in the north.

Interim president Mark Sweeny said it would also spark the creation of hundreds of jobs.

“The short term will include … over a thousand construction jobs for a three- to four-year period for the transmission line, the fibre-optic line, and the all-weather road system,” he said, “and a five- to six-year period for the hydrogen pipeline.

“Subsequently, all these projects will require ongoing maintenance and Indigenous stewardship,” he added, “which is estimated to provide 200 to 400 permanent jobs for Manitobans.”

Sweeny announced the news at the Treaty 5 territory gathering on Chemawawin Cree Nation, 440 km north of Winnipeg, last week. Treaty 5 comprises 37 First Nations and large parts of northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

The project will eventually involve First Nations in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, Sweeny added.

“The days of dividends, advisory-level equity partnerships, paternalistic policies, outdated acts such as the Water Power Act – designed to restrict and marginalize the inclusion of the First Peoples – must come to an end, especially when considering new projects within our traditional territories,” he said.

Negative impacts

Unlike past hydro projects that have impacted negatively on some First Nations, Sweeny said this proposal promises economic independence with member communities making money from power sales.

The transmission line would be 850- to 1,200-km long, with construction costs estimated at $4- to $5-billion for the electric line, fibre-optic network and all-weather road.

“The expenditures undertaken by Treaty 5 members will create a permanent increase in demand for goods and services in Manitoba,” Sweeney said, noting that the community is expected to make money from power sales.

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