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Deal struck between 4 First Nations and Manitoba Hydro to end blockades

Members of Manitoba First Nations, shown here in this recent handout image, worried about the spread of COVID-19 have been served an injunction ordering the group to remove a blockade into the Keeyask Generating construction site in Split Lake, Man.
Members of Manitoba First Nations, shown here in this recent handout image, worried about the spread of COVID-19 have been served an injunction ordering the group to remove a blockade into the Keeyask Generating construction site in Split Lake, Man. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tataskweyak Cree Nation band councillor Nathan Neckoway

An agreement has been reached between four First Nations and Manitoba Hydro after blockades were set up at the Keeyask Generating Station out of fears of spreading COVID-19, according to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).

The advocacy organization MKO says a partnership was reached Saturday between Manitoba Hydro and Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation and York Factory Cree Nation after they were concerned that rotating workers at the site would spread the novel coronavirus to northern communities.

“It is imperative that corporations working in our territory are full partners and in agreement with plans to open up the North — the First Nations had made it clear for weeks that they were not in agreement with the plans made for the Keeyask project. Their ultimate concern was in protecting their communities from the threat of COVID-19,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement.

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READ MORE: Indigenous group continues blockade over COVID 19 concerns in northern Manitoba

MKO says the agreement made between the Chiefs and Manitoba Hydro includes the removal of blockades and the lifting the injunction against Tataskweyak Cree Nation that was issued last Monday. 

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“We have asked Manitoba Hydro to work with us in a better way to move forward with the project,” Chief Doreen Spence of Tataskweyak Cree Nation said in a statement. “First Nations, like other Manitobans, have made many sacrifices to restrict the transmission of COVID-19. While we absolutely want our economies to open up and succeed, we are ultimately most concerned about the well-being and health of our citizens during this uncertain period. We want to keep everyone safe from this virus. We look forward to working as full partners throughout the completion and operation of this project.”

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro scaling back work, cancelling travel at Keeyask site to fight COVID-19 spread

Manitoba Hydro scaled back its work and suspended travel in and out of the construction site in mid-March.

“Manitoba Hydro is pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with our Keeyask Cree Nation partners that will see construction on Keeyask resume safely, while protecting both workers and the surrounding communities,” Bruce Owen, media relations officer with Manitoba Hydro, said in a statement to Global News.

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“The blockades have been removed and Manitoba Hydro will not be renewing its injunction.”

The Keeyask Project is a collaborative effort between the utility and four First Nations: Tataskweyak Cree Nation and War Lake First Nation, York Factory First Nation and Fox Lake Cree Nation.

The 695-megawatt generating station is located around 725 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the lower Nelson River.

It’s currently scheduled to be completed by 2021.