FREDERICTON — The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick says negotiations with the province's energy utility have broken down regarding a multibillion-dollar plan to upgrade the Mactaquac dam and generating station west of Fredericton.
NB Power has reneged on certain terms that had been agreed upon by both sides, the First Nation said Wednesday, involving issues such as community interests, cultural protection and economic opportunities.
Chief Gabriel Atwin of the Kingsclear First Nation — a member of the Wolastoqey Nation — says the Crown corporation is not negotiating in good faith because the government is upset about their title claim to large swaths of the province.
"It's a paternalistic approach," Atwin said in an interview. "I believe that the unfortunate part is the premier is upset with the Wolastoqey people because of the title claim and basically trying to block every step of negotiation in any field — not just Mactaquac dam."
Last year, six Wolastoqey chiefs filed a title claim in court for 60 per cent of New Brunswick's territory and targeted corporations such as NB Power and forestry giant J.D. Irving, which exploit resources on their traditional lands. The chiefs want the land returned, they want compensation for the use of that land for the last 200 years, and they want title to the entire area.
A news release by the Wolastoqey Nation said NB Power and the chiefs spent several years negotiating terms for the Mactaquac dam, which the province wants to keep operational until 2068 at a cost of up to $3.6 billion. The dam is located 20 kilometres west of the New Brunswick capital.
Documents shared by the First Nation said NB Power made a first offer in March 2021 with six terms, involving issues such as employment and education, environment, community interests and cultural protection measures, with money set aside for each.
The Wolastoqey responded with a counter offer in September 2021, which included environmental protections and a proposal for a 200-megawatt renewable energy project that would cover the First Nation's energy needs and allow it to sell surplus power at a competitive rate, the documents show.
In a letter sent to the Wolastoqey in May, Charlie Ryan, NB Power's project director for the dam project, said the utility would like to continue negotiations focusing solely on employment and education, environmental concerns, and procurement and contracts.
Completed in 1968, the dam, Atwin said, has destroyed a number of cultural traditions such as salmon fishing because there's no passage for the animals.
"That's how we feel as people," Atwin said. "We're an afterthought."
NB Power said in a statement that the utility has discussions with First Nations communities as part of its "duty to consult."
"NB Power remains committed to working with the Wolastoqey Nation as the utility continues to explore a path forward for the Mactaquac life achievement project," it said.
Atwin said the chiefs are hoping NB Power will come back to the table to resume talks and that negotiations will result in something that is "economically sustainable for their community."
The Wolastoqey Nation had no say in the construction of the dam, Atwin said, adding that the project has created noise and light pollution and environmental contamination and reduced food security.
"I just want to reiterate that the chiefs are not asking for anything unreasonable," he said. "We just want to share in the benefits of this dam."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press