First Nations blockade Highway 955 in protest
----- Original Message -----
From: Russell Diabo
Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2004 9:02 AM
Subject: First Nations blockade Highway 955 in protest
First Nations blockade Highway 955 in
(The Leader-Post (Regina))
PUBLICATION: The Leader-Post (Regina)
BYLINE: James Wood
SOURCE: Saskatchewan News Network
A northern highway is under blockade by a First Nation that feels shut out of the economic
spin-off from the $34-million project to decommission the Cluff Lake uranium mine.
The Clearwater River Dene Nation began its blockade of Hwy. 955 Friday evening with
heavy machinery and emergency lights on reserve land near the village of La Loche, which is
supporting the civil disobedience.
Chief Roy Cheechum said only local traffic will be allowed to go north until Cogema
Resources Inc., the owners of the mine, give assurances that local people will receive a "fair
share of jobs and contract work."
"This is the last major work for our area around here ... there is no mine that is going to start
up in the foreseeable future over here. So when you have a high unemployment situation in
La Loche and lesser unemployment here but still very high, and when we have an
opportunity like that, we have to take every and full advantage of that in an equitable way.
We don't want the whole show, we don't want all of the contracts but we certainly want all of
the positions when it comes to labourers and heavy equipment operators," he said in an
interview from his home Monday.
Cheechum said two area companies, one owned by the First Nation, did not win their bid for
a contract on the project. The band was negotiating with Cogema on subcontracting work or
employment positions, he said, but chose to set up the blockade last week after supply trucks
for the project began heading north.
For now, the RCMP, the provincial government and Cogema are taking a
non-confrontational approach to the peaceful blockade.
John Tosney, Cogema's executive vice-president, said the company hopes to work with
Clearwater River to come up with a satisfactory solution.
"We are facilitating the evaluation by the contractor of the resumes we've now been given.
So we are considering, the contractor is, what workers are available, who wants to work,
what skills they have and so on," he said.
Tosney said contracts for the decommissioning were awarded to northwest Saskatchewan
businesses. Cogema has also mandated that 60 per cent of the workforce for the project is
made up of northern workers from the "impact area" for the Cluff Lake mine.
However, that area is large and made up of about 15 communities, he pointed out.
"Unfortunately, the simple truth is there are simply not enough jobs to go around for all those
people who might require work," he said.
Over the two years of the decommissioning project, the number of workers will vary
between 60 and 100.
The Cluff Lake mine is about 700 km northwest of Saskatoon. La Loche and Clearwater
River are about 240 km south of the mine, with no major communities between them and the
While the province is trying to bring the two sides together to find a resolution, the First
Nation is also taking issue with the government for leasing commercial, residential and
industrial property in the band's "traditional area" without proper consultation.
"We want a freeze on these leases that are being given out now and we want to strike a
co-management board with ourselves, the community of La Loche and other communities
near us and the provincial government," he said, adding that he wants to meet with Northern
Affairs Minister Buckley Belanger and Environment Minister David Forbes.
Richard Turkheim, executive director of resource and industry development with the
Department of Northern Affairs, said the government will consider what Clearwater and La
Loche have to say about the leases.
He defended the measured approach taken by the government and RCMP while
acknowledging that some travelers with no connection to the Cluff Lake mine may be
hindered by the blockade.
"Sometimes the risks of escalation and of the result of what I might call a 'jackboot' response
can be worse than the disruption and the temporary frustration of this kind of demonstration.
Each case ... has been assessed very carefully on a case-by-case basis and we have the
support of the RCMP to do it that way," said Turkheim.
La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois said unemployment rates as high as 90 per cent for her
village led the village council to give moral support to the blockade.
"The local pressure we received to support it was enormous," she said.
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