An aboriginal group in Labrador voted in favour Thursday of an agreement to approve a multibillion-dollar hydro project.


Innu nation Grand Chief Joseph Riche says the New Dawn agreement has been approved. ((CBC))

The agreement approves the Lower Churchill hydro project, settles the land claim and provides compensation for the Churchill Falls dam that was built in the 1960s.

Grand Chief of the Innu nation, Joseph Riche, said that in preliminary results, the community of Sheshatshiu voted 84 per cent in favour, while the community of Natuashish voted 96 per cent in favour.

There are about 2,400 Innu living in the Labrador communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.

The New Dawn agreement gives Innu hunting rights in large parts of Labrador and ends a decades-old dispute. In the 1960s when a dam was built at Churchill Falls, the Innu weren't compensated or consulted.

The Innu will have a stake in the hydro project and collect millions in royalties. Innu businesses will get first crack at contracts and jobs.

Riche said it won't just be the Innu who benefit from the Lower Churchill project.

"I think it's going to open up significant opportunities, not just for the Innu people but for the people in Labrador as well."

The vote clears a big hurdle for Newfoundland and Labrador, which has invested millions preparing for construction. Nalcor, the Crown energy corporation, is counting on the renewable power to shut down an oil-fired generating station and to sell power to the Maritimes. Now the project needs to clear an environmental assessment.

With files from the CBC's Peter Cowan