MKO chief won’t step down because of nuclear waste agreement

An agreement between Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has caused quite a stir among MKO member First Nations.

In a March 6 press release, the Swampy Cree Tribal Council (SCTC) confirmed their collective moratorium against nuclear energy and storage within Cree territory. “This moratorium follows previous resolutions against nuclear energy and storage passed at a Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Chiefs Assembly in Norway House in 2014. The majority of chiefs at the assembly passed MKO Resolutions #2014-0702, which specifically opposed nuclear storage in Manitoba.”

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MKO Grand Chief David Harper agrees with the moratorium saying the agreement with MKO and NWMO has nothing to do with nuclear waste storage in Manitoba. The agreement, and the money are for educational purposes. “I’m getting a little frustrated also. Even if we don’t accept the money, we are still going to do the education project. We have to.”

Harper is concerned that a potential nuclear waste storage site in Ignace, Ont. will affect Manitoba lakes and rivers. “Some chiefs have told me it goes as far north as Island Lake, into God’s Lake, into God’s River, up to Hayes River, up to Nelson River. So we need to know the extent. That is all we’re looking for. We’ve never said we approve nuclear waste storage facilities, and we won’t say that.”

In the press release SCTC Grand Chief Nelson Genaille says the agreement was signed without members knowing. “I was shocked to find out that MKO Grand Chief Harper signed an agreement with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization without either our knowledge or without our consent.” But Harper says he did let the members know. “I don’t sign anything without the direction from the executive. The members of the executive knew, and the member representative from Swampy Cree Tribal Council went to a Swampy Cree meeting to notify the chiefs that a potential site was already in the works in Creighton at the time. The meeting was sometime around Nov. 20.”

Creighton, Sask. has now been removed off the list of potential storage sites.

Harper went on to explain he’s protecting MKO members, under his oath, and the agreement is to find out more information on nuclear waste storage. “The oath I signed, it stated that I am to warn the First Nations of any harm, or if any major impacts will come our way. This is one of the things I did. I warned the chiefs, I warned the committees, and no one really informed our people what is happening. Transport of nuclear waste, transport of uranium right through the province of Manitoba, and that is what we’re trying to find out, where are the routes for this transportation.”

Genaille went on to state that SCTC would not longer participate in the MKO executive until Harper steps down. Harper, however, says he does not plan to step down because he has done nothing wrong. “The national chiefs office, the Assembly of First Nations is receiving money right now for educational purposes, and no one is asking them to step down. The grand chiefs of Ontario, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, the grand chief and the organization is receiving educational funds right now, and no one is asking them to step down. Prince Albert Grand Council, grand chief is receiving money for educational purposes and no one is asking them to step down, the provincial organization in Saskatchewan receiving funds for the same thing, and no one is asking them to step down. They’ve all signed the same agreement as we’ve signed.”

MKO has been on NCI radio every Monday reporting and explaining what the agreement means for MKO and residents of Manitoba, but for Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Chief Arlen Dumas that isn’t enough. “The SCTC Chiefs have lost all faith in MKO Grand Chief David Harper. His signing of this deal with NWMO without our knowledge or consent is a major breach of trust. MKO has absolutely no legal, political or moral authority to act on our behalf in relation to our aboriginal or treaty rights. This agreement has the potential to negatively impact our rights.”

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