The Neestanan Utility Corridor: Northern Manitoba Gateway to the world Continued from page 1The original Hudson Bay Route Plan of the Nelson Estuary (1927). Created by F. Palmer.

The trading of goods has been in the DNA of Indigenous People for millennia, but somewhere along the way, with the coming of treaties and reserves, this was lost. The time has come for First Nations to regain these forgotten abilities for the betterment of their communities and Canada.

The direct involvement of First Nations as equal partners in energy development will help Canada to reach greater capacity and sustainable economic prosperity, while advancing the long overlooked critical interests of the Prairie Provinces. Current methods of transporting landlocked prairie products and resources to reach international markets are inefficient and costly to producers, involving shipping either west through the Rocky Mountains or east through the Great Lakes. 

The Neestanan Utility Corridor: Northern Manitoba Gateway to the world
The shipyard at Port Nelson in 1915. Port Nelson was the first choice as a location for a port in Manitoba along Hudson Bay. Photo by Aimé Guertin.

But there is a third and better option.

The Neestanan Utility Corridor (NUC) is a First Nations led economic development partnership initiative with the mission to have First Nations own a continuous multi-modal utility and right of way across the Canadian Prairies and north to Hudson Bay. The University of Calgary School of Public Policy has been working on a version of this for the whole country which they call the “Northern Corridor route”. 

The Neestanan portion of this northern corridor will stretch from Alberta to Port Nelson, Man. on the western shore of Hudson Bay. Port Nelson would also be the shipping gateway of the Neestanan project, providing Canadian exporters with shorter routes to take their products to new Canadian and world markets.

First Nation ownership of NUC (Neestanan means “all of us” or “us too” in Cree) will allow the Nations to establish environmental, construction, and operating criteria for the building and maintenance of the NUC and set standards for the users of the right of way.

The Neestanan Utility Corridor: Northern Manitoba Gateway to the world Continued from page 1
The original Hudson Bay Route Plan of the Nelson Estuary (1927). Created by F. Palmer.

The NUC is consequently designed to enable high-demand Prairie produced commodities to move through the Port Nelson seaport directly to international markets with less cost, more efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and significant benefit to First Nations communities.

Not only will the NUC create an economy that will be large-scale, but it will also be environmentally sustainable and enhance communities far beyond the Corridor itself. The new road, pipeline, hydroelectric, rail and seaport infrastructure provided by the NUC project will deliver new growth opportunities across Canada’s natural resource sector and encourage further development of green hydrogen, petroleum, hydroelectric, agriculture and mining resources. NUC would work for imports also. Using the Neestanan utility corridor as the product delivery route to the Prairies replaces reliance upon crowded ports such as Vancouver and Montreal; Great Lake lock expenses, and trains through the Rocky Mountains.

The Neestanan Corridor will subsequently transform not only First Nations communities but all of Canada by creating new trade routes for oil, electricity, and commodities. Not only is this an unprecedented undertaking critical for Canada, but it’s also a bold and transformational path forward for First Nations in these uncertain economic times.

Ownership and control vested in First Nations will mitigate the opposition to these infrastructure projects by grouping them into a single corridor. First Nations ownership over the right-away and standards should facilitate approval from the provincial and federal governments, the Canadian population, and political factions otherwise likely to oppose a utility corridor.

Right of Way ownership would come from First Nation land and be supplemented by Treaty Land Entitlement settlements. The FN will provide environmental and operating controls that will meet and exceed federal and provincial guidelines.

The people behind Neestanan are primarily Indigenous individuals from across the prairies including Rupert Meneen, Sandford Gauchier, Michael Lawrenchuk, Wilfred Jimmy, Albert Angus, and Robyn Lore. They have also assembled an impressive advisory group of environmentalists, engineers, lawyers and retired regulators.

This is a big project with a big vision. To bring it to reality will require co-operation from governments who must be willing to resist lobbying from those who resist change or who feel their interest are under threat. Indeed, when Neestanan becomes a reality, all will benefit

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Comments from Mike Lawrenchuk, a member of the Fox Lake Cree Nation and a former Chief

First Nations need a revenue source/economic engine they can own and control and benefit from.

By taking an active role in how resources are developed and handled in their territories FN can improve Northern Manitoba

Having a Utility Corridor across the Prairies will provide a revenue source and economic engine that would enable FNs to begin building serious infrastructure programs in their communities as well as minimizing their dependence on the Federal Government.

If FN start and own the corridor it will be studied and implemented for the long term benefit of FN. When outsiders come into FN territory and extract resources they provide a few years of employment for FNs but then things return to the pre-project poverty levels. 

There are always environmental concerns and who better to deal with them than the people that know the environment intricately have done so for thousands of years. First Nations know their very existence is wholly dependent on the environment and that to damage that relationship is to damage their ability to stay alive therefore any needs of the environment would be looked at in conjunction with the project.

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Comments from Angela Adsit, CEO of ICD PRO

If the 3 C’s (consultation, connection, and collaboration) are followed, I believe FN people across the Prairies will gladly engage, welcome the training and employment, and benefit from the multiple advantages that a utility corridor will provide. 

1. Advantages to Canada: billions of dollars per year

2. Advantages to Manitoba: jobs, international respect and recognition

3. Advantages to FN: jobs, empowerment, recognition, respect, more autonomy, better stewardship of the land and resources

FN should support a utility corridor in their territory IF the 3C’s are followed. What that looks like has to be determined by the First Nation. Industry developers need First Nations and First Nations need industry developers. It is a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship. Neither one can accomplish what they want to accomplish without the other.

First Nations welcome progress and profit but not at the long-term expense of destroying the environment. Mother Earth has sustained us for thousands of years – we owe Her the respect of excellent stewardship so She can continue providing for future generations.

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Wilfred Jimmy is a member of the Thunderchild First Nation and CEO of New Nations Development. 

“What this could mean for the First Nations communities along the right of way is long lasting revenues that will be the catalyst to bring back self sufficiency to the First Nations people. This will transform First Nations people and it will allow them to rediscover their culture, traditions and most importantly redevelop their identity. This will lead to Nation building! Nation building refers to the political, legal, spiritual, educational and economic processes through which First Nations peoples engage in order to address their needs. Nation building is strengthening and enhancing capacity of First Nations for the purposes of realizing their own cultural economic and political objectives through foundational actions of their own design and initiation. Nation building is creating a community that functions out of a non-functioning environment, this would be due to decades of colonization. Nation building is the basis on which to ensure the community takes up an effective role within the local, regional and national community. Nation building is forming a common identity while recognizing and respecting diverse views. Nation building is developing/structuring a community’s identity.”