First Nations-led infrastructure project worth billions looks to benefit Treaty 5 and beyond | CBC News

A First Nations owned and operated coalition is working to assert the sovereignty of Indigenous People with plans for a new multibillion-dollar inter-provincial infrastructure project. 

Called the Wáwátéwák Corridor (Wáwátéwák is for Cree for northern lights), the project is meant to brighten the futures of First Nations on the prairies by creating jobs and revenue, giving back to their communities, says Mark Sweeny of Pimicikamak First Nation.

Sweeny is the president of the Treaty 5 Coalition and a former Manitoba Hydro director. The $5-6 billion dollar project could take roughly a decade to fully complete, if approved.

“Partnerships must advance our nations as equal partners at a starting point with sustainable long term economic benefits,” Sweeny says.

The coalition’s vision is a multi-use pathway — or corridor — featuring an all-weather highway with telecommunications and power infrastructure as well as pipelines to transport Alberta hydrogen to tidewater spanning Churchill, Man. through to Alberta, covering roughly 1,200 kilometres. 

Sweeny says the coalition was advised by Fortis Inc., a leader in the utility industry in North America.

“Eighty per cent of hydroelectric power generated in Manitoba comes from Treaty 5 lands and waters… leaving our citizens bearing the brunt of the negative impacts of hydro development,” says Sweeny. 

Sweeny says the corridor would be the first of its kind running east-to-west and could create better physical access for 37 Treaty 5 communities and beyond.

While the coalition has not yet engaged with the provincial or federal government, the province says in an email that it is encouraged that the treaty coalition sees the economic opportunities in Manitoba. 

The Manitoba government says in an email to CBC the idea of bringing energy and other products to Hudson Bay is inspiring, but has not yet heard from the coalition. 

‘Not to survive… but to thrive’

Treaty 5 nations say the project could allow them to reclaim their inherent rights and put their traditional lands to use.

“We have the knowledge, we have the capacity, we have the willingness to participate in Canada’s wider economy,” says project spokesperson Chief Clarence Easter of Chemawawin Cree Nation in north-central Manitoba. 

The project was unveiled this week in Chemawawin during the annual Treaty 5 summit. 

“The Wáwátéwák corridor project has the potential to provide employment, sustainable prosperity and economic growth to our Treaty 5 nations,” Easter said. 

Going forward, the coalition said it would take an Indigenous-led approach by working with First Nation communities first.

“It’s high time we turn the tide on widespread poverty and create opportunities for our people not just to survive, but to thrive,” said Easter, who also noted others will also benefit. 

“This project presents an opportunity, [for] the Manitobans and also the Canadians alike to work together [with Indigenous people] in partnership, to embark on this new path of truth and reconciliation, not simply with words but also with our actions.”

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