Nfld. & Labrador

N.L., Innu strike deal on hydro megaprojects

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams announced an agreement Friday with Labrador's Innu over a proposed hydroelectric megaproject, and compensation for another.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams announces the agreement on Friday. ((CBC))

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams announced an agreement Friday with Labrador's Innu over a proposed hydroelectric megaproject, and compensation for another.

Flanked by Innu Nation leaders, Williams told reporters that the deal will include both an ownership stake in the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project and redress for what the Innu suffered when the existing Upper Churchill project was built in the 1960s.

Williams described the announcement "as an incredibly historic day for both the Innu people of Labrador and the people of this province as a whole."

The deal, which includes full and partial ownership of large tracts of land, undoubtedly will help the Innu Nation's ongoing land claims negotiations with the federal government. Williams said the deal also helps his government in moving the Lower Churchill proposal closer to reality.

"Most importantly, in particular for the elders of the Innu Nation, this agreement deals with redress for the Upper Churchill hydroelectric development," said Williams, adding the agreement settles "the long, outstanding grievance of the Innu Nation with respect to damages suffered to Innu lands and properties as a result of the flooding caused by the Upper Churchill development of the late 1960s."

Grand chief applauds deal

Mark Nui, grand chief of the Innu Nation, applauded the deal, which will require ratification by Innu Nation members before it takes effect.

Timeline

1967: Construction begins on the Upper Churchill hydroelectric plant, which will become the second-largest hydro plant in North America. Large tracts of traditional Innu hunting lands are flooded to help form the Smallwood Reservoir.

1976: Power begins flowing from Churchill Falls; a 65-year power agreement comes into effect.

1977: Labrador's Innu form the Naskapi-Montagnais Innu Association.

1990: The Innu Nation is formed to replace the NMIA and to advocate for land and other rights and benefits. 

May 2006: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro announces it will develop the proposed Lower Churchill megaproject alone after reviewing bids.

June 2006: Premier Danny Williams says he agrees in principle with an Innu Nation request for a five per cent equity stake in the Lower Churchill.

January 2008: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro announces a memorandum of understanding with Emera Inc. and Nova Scotia Power to explore exporting Labrador energy to the Maritimes and New England.

May 2008: Peter Penashue, deputy grand chief of the Innu Nation, said a deal on the Lower Churchill cannot be reached without compensation for the Upper Churchill megaproject.

September 2008: Williams, Innu leaders announce a deal that includes Upper Churchill redress and guaranteed royalties on the planned Lower Churchill plan.

"This agreement signals the beginning of a new era of co-operation and understanding between our governments," said Nui.

Labrador's Innu live primarily in two communities: Natuashish, on Labrador's northern coast, and Sheshatshiu, in central Labrador. Nui said the agreement "provides the building blocks" to overcome decades of poverty and social problems.

The deal is certain not to receive unanimous support in Labrador's Innu communities, especially in Sheshatshiu, where some residents vigorously oppose any participation in a Lower Churchill project. Sheshatshiu is near Muskrat Falls, the proposed site of one of two generation stations on the Lower Churchill project.

The terms of the agreement regarding the Upper Churchill will see the Innu receive $2 million a year until 2041, when an existing 65-year contract — which sees hydro flow to Quebec at rates set decades ago — expires. At that point, Williams said, the Innu will gain an equity stake in the Upper Churchill.

The Upper Churchill contract has long been a sore point with the Newfoundland and Labrador government, which has lost two Supreme Court of Canada challenges on the issue.

"We all look forward, with great anticipation, to that day in 2041 when the Upper Churchill is finally repatriated to our province, once and for all," Williams said. 

The announcement Friday shows a considerable change in tone between Williams and the Innu Nation.

In May, Innu Nation vice-president Peter Penashue said a Lower Churchill project would never happen if the Innu were not compensated for damages from the Upper Churchill. At the time, Williams warned the Innu's demands could derail the Lower Churchill project.

Innu take royalty position on Lower Churchill

The deal also cements more than two years of talks between Williams, the Innu Nation and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro over an equity stake in the proposed Lower Churchill project.

Mark Nui, grand chief of the Innu Nation, said Friday's announcement marked 'the beginning of a new era of co-operation and understanding.' ((CBC))

Two years ago, Williams agreed in principle to an Innu Nation demand for a five per cent equity stake in the megaproject, which Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is developing. The current vision involves generating about 2,800 megawatts of power — enough energy for about 1.5 million households — from two sites on the lower Churchill River.

Instead of taking a direct ownership position, though, the Innu Nation has elected to take an equivalent royalty, which will amount to five per cent of net project revenue. The decision also includes a payment of $5 million year from the time the project is officially sanctioned until it generates commercial power.

The deal is being called the Tshash Petapen Agreement, which translates as the New Dawn Agreement. Negotiators worked until about 5:45 a.m. on Friday to complete its final details.

Peter Penashue, deputy grand chief of the Innu Nation, supported the deal. Penashue only last May had challenged Williams to resolve redress issues. Also participating in the announcement were Anastasia Qupee, the chief of the band council in Sheshatshiu, and Prote Poker, chief of the band council in Natuashish.

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