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The Fond du Lac Reserve is in the process of land claim settlement in a potential uranium-rich area. They are entitled to 29,633 acres. Fond du Lac is located 620 miles northwest of Saskatoon.
Following settlement of their claim, the band leadership hopes to negotiate with the Eldorado Mining Company for an exploration agreement, said counselor John MacDonald.
The land claim already includes a minimal lease agreement with Eldorado which will allow the company to explore all the land that belongs to the band. There is also $100,000 a year set aside for past exploration which will accrue to the band on the signing of the agreement when the land entitlement is confirmed, he added.
"There's a lot of anti-uranium movement in the north. The band's position is to go ahead with the mining industry but play it safe so that an environmental problem will not occur," said education director Matthew Yooya.
|Band Councillor August Mecredi||Band Councillor John MacDonald||Education Director Matthew Yooya|
In reference to potential radiation hazards, MacDonald said: "I've worked for 13 years in the mines myself and have not encountered any side effects. Besides workers are monitored constantly (with urine tests.)"
Presently, there are 25-30 people working at the Rabbit Lake Mine from the reserve and hold key positions. Therefore, the band did not support the recent blockade at the gates of the mine. Support of the blockade would have jeopardized the jobs of these band members. Without the mining employment, economic activity on reserve is very low.
Of the 700 band members, 20 are employed by the band in housing projects which is seasonal work. However, the band hopes to get commercial fishing off the ground by summer. Presently, band members only fish for domestic use.
Like many southern reserves, Fond du Lac took over the control of education, July 1, and hired Matthew Yooya as director. He is responsible for establishing an education program which will suit community needs. However, he predicts no major changes for the first year.
"The present situation evolved over 30 years so we need time to get our policies in place, assess teacher performance and get more school committee involvement. We had no control over federal policy before but now we can keep on top of the situation. We want to see what's happening in the classroom, why there's a high turnover of teachers, and assess the drop-out rate," said Yooya.
Louis and John James Mecredi with breakfast
Chief Mercredi's plane
Of the drop-outs, few leave the reserve. The ones that leave, soon return. They have a hard time adjusting to the system and are used to the lifestyle here, said MacDonald.
Beside employment by the band housing program, the band administration, the local mines, the Chief's general store, the only other economic activity is the trapline. This is seasonal work and affects only a small percentage of the population. The general population is on welfare. The rates paid out are the same level as those anywhere in the province but the cost of living is almost double.
Presently, the community includes a band office, a school, a general store, a fire hall, RCMP barracks, a church, an arcade, and a small landing strip. Winter access to the community is a road across the frozen lake (Fond du Lac) for a one month period. In summer, community needs are shipped on the barge from Fort MacMurray, consequently, band leadership hopes that the mining industry will build a road to facilitate transportation.
Chief Adolphus Mecredi
Walking home from church
Then perhaps we can establish small businesses and other economic development projects and be independent," he added.
"The whole community is a family group. It is the community spirit that made this place what it is. Here I have to give the credit to the Chief, Aldophus Mercredi. He thinks ahead and doesn't give up." said MacDonald.
The band is now in the process of establishing an adult technical training institution in the community. They are also struggling to tap into indirect benefits from northern resources for a decent airstrip, all-weather road and economic development in the tourism area.