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Kawartha Nishnawbe stage blockade at Parks Canada dam project in Burleigh Falls

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Members of Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nation set up at blockade at the main dam in Burleigh Falls Tuesday night. They say Parks Canada is about to demolish and reconstruct the dam, which members say is on First Nation property and they weren't consulted about it. – Jan 13, 2021

Members of Kawartha Nishawbe First Nation have set up a blockade in protest of a dam replacement project in Burleigh Falls, north of Peterborough.

According to the members’ lawyer Christopher Reid, the governing council of Kawartha Nishnawbe says Parks Canada, which owns the Trent-Severn Waterway dam, failed to consult the members of the plan to demolish and rebuild the dam at Lock 28. Construction started on Monday, he said, and the blockade was erected on Tuesday night and is preventing access to the dam.

The area is situated about 30 kilometres north of Peterborough. Construction is scheduled for completion in late summer of 2024.  Parks Canada said the project at Burleigh Falls was originally scheduled as a rehabilitation project, however, following an unsuccessful tender process in the summer of 2019, the decision was made to fully replace the dam.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines arrive in remote First Nations across Canada

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“Only last week we became aware of plans by Parks Canada to demolish and rebuild the dam at Burleigh Falls,” said Reid. “This project will certainly have a huge impact on the people of Kawartha Nishnawbe, yet we were never consulted.  Through our legal counsel we have written to Parks Canada to demand consultation on this project, but they have refused.  This means Parks Canada is acting illegally.”

The dam was built in 1912. Reid says its construction led to the “forced relocation” of Kawartha Nishnawbe people from their homes on Island 31 to their present home in Burleigh Falls since the island was cleared for workers’ camps during the project.

“Kawartha Nishnawbe has never been compensated for the theft of our land and we have been treated as nothing more than ‘squatters’ in our own land ever since,” said Reid.

Reid noted a 2002 Ontario Court of Justice ruling that recognized Kawartha Nishnawbe as a Mississauga First Nation community with rights under the Treat of 1818. He also noted a 2000 Supreme Court of Canada Case (Lovelace vs. Ontario) which also stated Kawartha Nishnawbe is a Mississauga community with a traditional form of governance that has experienced “layer upon layer of oppression and exclusion.”

“Canada has ignored these rulings and continued to act as if Kawartha Nishnawbe does not exist,” said Reid. “We say, enough is enough.  As a Treaty First Nation community, the law is very clear:  Canada has a solemn duty to consult with Kawartha Nishnawbe before undertaking or approving any project which could impact on our rights. Parks Canada is clearly acting illegally by refusing to consult with us.”

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Nodwin Webb, a Kawartha Nishnawbe councillor said “enough is enough.” He was at the blockade on Wednesday.

“As a First Nation community, the law is very clear — Canada has a solemn duty to consulate with Kawartha Nishnawbe before undertaking or approving any project which could impact on our rights,” he told Global News Peterborough. “Parks Canada is clearly acting illegally by refusing to consult with us.”

Global News Peterborough reached out to Parks Canada on Wednesday morning for comment. At 5:20 p.m., Parks Canada public relations officer Natalie Austin replied to say a comment was unavailable for Wednesday.

Reid says the council is asking all its members to join them in the blockade to “protect our lands and our homes.”

“We demand that all construction stop immediately and we further demand that Parks Canada comply with the law of Canada and engage in thorough consultations with Kawartha Nishnawbe.  We will not allow this project to proceed in violation of the law and our rights.

“Kawartha Nishnawbe will not stand by and watch as our lands and waters are illegally damaged by Parks Canada.”

— More to come.

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