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Compensation agreement for OCN trappers and fishers reached

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It took a long time for the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) Trappers’ and Fishermen’s’ Association to receive compensation from Manitoba Hydro, but it finally came this past Thursday as OCN Chief and Council gathered at the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre (GLMC) and publicly announced that payments will be handed out to the OCN trappers and fishers as well as their families.
The compensation in question was about economic damages done to the OCN trappers and fishers stemming from the construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station in 1960 east of The Pas near Grand Rapids. Its construction led to extensive flooding in the region negatively impacting the commercial trapping and fishing industry. It would also prove to be an outstanding issue for a long time with negotiations taking place for nine years.
Back in the fall of 2016 the OCN trappers and fishers set up multiple blockades of Manitoba Hydro freight heading to the construction of the Keeyask Generating Station after negotiations between the trappers and fishers broke down. Initially on Highway 10 north of OCN as well as on Highway 6 north of Grand Rapids, those blockades were seemingly unsuccessful as the trappers and fishers hoped they would be and the following week the OCN Trappers’ Association and the Fishermens’ Association held a public meeting at the OCN Veterans Hall to try and rally support from the public.
Soon afterwards another blockade was raised, this time on Highway 6 near the Ponton Service Station past the Wabowden turnoff. This blockade was seemingly more successful and the trappers and fishermen restarted negotiations, negotiations which continued behind closed doors with Kate Kempton, a lawyer for the Olthuis Kleer Townshend (OKT) law firm based in Toronto, Ontario, working with the OCN trappers and fishermen.
“I’ve only been working with them for the past seven or eight months when this kind of came to a head on the road by James Sinclair (President of the OCN Trappers’ Association), Irvin Constant (President of the OCN Fishermens Association) and John Morriseau (Consultant) when they got Hydro’s attention by stopping traffic and I got involved at that point,” said Kempton last Thursday.
OKT as well as Kempton herself have experiences in dealing with aboriginal land claims, compensation settlements, title cases, aboriginal rights and treaty rights among other aboriginal related cases.
Discussions continued behind closed doors until recently when the negotiations were settled and payments were discussed and organized, culminating in last Thursday’s events.
In an email to the Opasquia Times Scott Powell the Director of Corporate Communications for Manitoba Hydro stated on the matter of compensation settlement negotiations finally ending, “Manitoba Hydro is pleased that we were able to reach a negotiated settlement with the OCN fishers and trappers. It took a (long) time, but we are glad we were able to come to an agreement that both sides are satisfied with.”
The blockades in the fall of 2016 proved to be much more effective than nine years of negotiations and after negotiations started up again Manitoba Hydro was much more flexible on the table.
“For about nine years prior to that, those three gentlemen have tried getting a fair settlement from Hydro and they were not succeeding. Hydro was offering far too little money, it wasn’t fair. Because of their actions, that caught Hydro’s attention in a big way and we signed a process agreement to engage a mediator that led to a big process whereby we got the settlement that we have right now,” explained Kempton.
The number in question amounts to $14.5 million being split between the trappers and fishermen with their respective families.
“The total amount for the fishers is $7 million and the total amount for the trappers is $7.5 million,” Kempton said.
One thing is certain; this wouldn’t have been possible without Constant, Sinclair and Morriseau’s efforts as well as the support they received during the blockades.
“I am mostly struck by the great courage displayed by those three men and by all the trappers and fishers with their families here,” said Kempton.
Compared to before the blockades the amount that Manitoba Hydro offered in Kempton’s opinion was a “pittance.”
“It was much more than they were offering before, but what they were offering before was in my opinion a pittance as to what was fair. Hydro will of course have a fairly different statement than that but that’s my opinion,” Kempton spoke, adding, “It’s many times more than what they were offering before, at the end of the day I would say it’s not even really enough. It’s what was agreed to but in my opinion the trappers and fishers suffered and continue to suffer from this Hydro project, they were really entitled to a huge amount more but money doesn’t grow on trees.”
With this compensation settlement over, a very long and arduous chapter in the history of Opaskwayak Cree Nation has come to a close.

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Trevor Wright
REPORTER
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