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Native groups participate in Great Lakes water

Observer Staff

1/24/2005 12:00:00 AM

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario (AP)-Canada's Indian Tribes have been invited to make face-to-face-but not government-to-government-submissions on a far-reaching framework to regulate Great Lakes water.

The Council of Great Lakes Governors is preparing a forum for Native groups to make submissions on the Implementing Agreement for Annex 2001, even though it's past a 90-day period for public comment.

The council received more than 10,000 submissions, including "several" from native groups, and now wants to meet them to "better understand their recommendations," said David Naftzger, the council's executive director.

Naftzger said the decision was made before the late November unprecedented meeting in Sault Ste. Marie at which 75 Canadian and American Native communities signed an accord demanding a greater role in shaping the legislation.

They recommended that Natives have one or two seats at the table that is now shared by the eight Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec, but that appears unlikely.

Although "we recognize different levels of government need to work with one another to realize their shared objectives," Metzger said they seek only to "build upon discussions that have taken place, to provide more of a collective forum for discussion."

The Union of Ontario Indians argues Native groups weren't consulted in the three years Annex 2001 was framed.

The Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, one of two draft agreements that make up Annex 2001, addresses "federally recognized Tribes within the Great Lakes basin" by giving them "opportunity to comment in writing to the council and other relevant organizations" in the event a water withdrawal or diversion proposal is made in their state.

Bob Goulais, a spokesman for the Union of Ontario Indians, said that's not good enough. "What we want them to understand is we're not stakeholders-we're part of the jurisdictions that have an ownership stake in these lakes."

Existing treaties that cede land don't address lake beds and waterways and "we've never given that up," Goulais said. " ... As far as we're concerned, that jurisdiction has never been surrendered."

The issue is one of responsibility and stewardship, he said. "The reason isn't economic in nature. We feel we have the responsibility given to us from the Creator to look after the resources."

A firm date hasn't yet been set for talks with Natives, nor specific groups chosen.