Tobique, NB Power reach consensus
Protest halted after disconnection orders cease
Victoria Star [New Brunswick]
Published Wednesday July 30th, 2008
Tobique First Nations residents hold signs protesting the construction of the Tobique Narrow hydroelectric facility more than 50 years ago. The protesters complained that NB Power has never honoured an agreement to provide the reserve with free electricity.
Mark Rickard photo
The half century-old disagreement on the construction of Tobique Narrows dam by the New Brunswick Electric Power Corporation bubbled to the surface again last week as Tobique First nation residents staged a protest and occupied the hydroelectric facility. At press time Tuesday protesters said the hydroelectric facility is now under NB Power control as natives still negotiate with the corporation.
Tobique residents, who held a sit-in on a small section of grass between Highway 105 and Larley Road, reported to the Victoria Star they were fed up with NB Power harassing Tobique residents about unpaid power bills. The natives contend that NB Power agreed to provide free electricity to the reserve when the dam was constructed on reserve land in 1953.
Protest organizer Hart Perley stated because Tobique First Nation was under third party management, the chief and council decided that the only power bills paid by the band would be social service recipients. That meant that 65 elders and others under the band’s collective power agreement now faced unpaid bills of $3,000 to $10,000.
“The community members started coming in and stating they didn’t want to pay for their hydro bills anymore.
There were community members that were threatened to be disconnected if they didn’t pay in full,” Perley stated.
“They can’t even begin to pay these horrendous arrears.”
Perley said Tobique natives feel NB Power built the dam on land that belonged to the reserve, and Tobique First Nation should be benefitting from the electricity being generated at the facility.
“The chiefs at the time and it is well documented, they were against the building of this dam, and expressed that numerous times. But Indian Affairs, the New Brunswick government and the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission knew this. Chief Peter Bear told them if we can’t stop them we should be compensated with free power for all residents and businesses in our community.
But it still fell on deaf ears.”
Other Tobique chiefs have tried to negotiate with NB Power but have been ignored by the utility.
“I was fed up with the frustrations of my community and people, and decided to speak out against this injustice,” Perley stated.
After natives told NB Power workers they had to leave the hydroelectric facility or be locked in, the workers left peacefully.
But after several days occupying the land around the facility, the protesters announced that NB Power had agreed not to threaten Tobique natives with disconnection.
“There was some electrical service that needed to be done in the community and they are doing it. They agreed to restore electricity to several homes and perform some needed maintenance work at the dam,” Perley stated. “We have also requested a meeting with the president of NB Power, the Indian Affairs minister, Minister of Energy, New Brunswick Aboriginal Affairs secretariat, Tobique Chief and Council and community members.”
In an e-mail sent to the protesters, NB Power also offered to forgive the unpaid arrears of 65 elders until June 2008, with the Tobique residents expected to pay their electrical bill after July 1.
“I haven’t replied to that, but the elders are saying no. Our stand is that Tobique First Nation will not pay hydro and we are not deterring from that stand,” Perley stated. “We are going to continue our discussions.”
NB Power officials would not comment on whether the hydroelectric facility was occupied by the protesters.
Heather MacLean, media relations manager said NB Power has had discussions with Tobique residents for some time.
“It’s a sensitive topic, and we want to speak directly to our customers on sensitive issues,” she stated. “We had employees at the facility yesterday.”
The NB power official confirmed the Tobique Narrows hydroelectric facility can be operated remotely.