By Malcolm McColl
Roy Michano survived a near-death experience after a bout of surgery in late in 2007. The Honourary Elder of the Union of Ontario Indians (representing the Ojibways of the Pic River) explained, “I went in to have gall bladder surgery and complications ensued.” It became serious when they had to move the esteemed elder into an intensive care unit in North Bay, and it took quite a few days to restore Roy’s secure footing on earth. “It was a relief to pull through,” he said, giving credit to the health professionals surrounding him during those few weeks. He also noted he has changed a few things regarding diet, exercise, and fitness. “It was long time coming.”
It was Roy Michano who exerted the initial effort to bring energy income to Northern Ontario First Nations. Roy worked closely with developer David Carter of Regional Power to create the Wawatay Small Hydro Project on the Black River, completed in 1992, on Pic River First Nation land. Michano said, “We have had two chiefs elected since I put that project together,” and economic developments have obviously ascended over politics. The joint partnership coordinated with David Carter has helped to create a more self-reliant Ojibway community.
At the assembly of affiliated First Nations, the main focus was on wind power, co-generation, and water power partnerships, and according to Michano, the government connections are working to the benefit of First Nations. “Our dreams are becoming reality,” Michano said, “and it is gratifying as an elder to watch these programs and developments growing into the long-awaited return to self-sufficiency.”
This activity in electrical generation has arrived when forestry has fallen into a steep decline and mining projects are in flux, and Michano believes hydroelectric energy is the most viable route to economic security. He has seen a lot of new players enter the process. “What we began as a goal to obtain self-sufficiency has spread to other communities along the northern shores of Lake Superior. A few different communities are doing what we have done, and developers are hounding First Nations to get involved in new projects with energy,” he said.
Michano is impressed that new talks about energy development require participation of First Nations. “We are not sitting in the bleachers anymore,” he said. “If projects are coming into play, royalties and revenues will include First Nations.” Still, he hears the talk from the white man, telling First Nations, “We are here to save you again!” Michano points out, “It was like that 15 years ago when we started, when a flock of developers started coming around and a pittance was offered.”
The Ojibways of Pic River have an ideal territory for hydro development, and First Nations in the region owe a debt of gratitude to the 66-year-old Michano for sticking to an ownership position when he started with Carter’s Regional Power Inc. The company has spinoff developments from Wawatay, is allowed first right of refusal from the government on future projects, and can make changes to existing arrangements. “We have a 50 year agreement for $4 million a year,” he said, and because of the work done with Carter, the investment of First Nation assets will be taking a whole new direction.
Regional Power Inc. is in the business of developing, building, refurbishing, financing, and operating hydroelectric power plants, and also happens to be a subsidiary of Manulife Financial. Michano sees spinoff benefits coming from existing and impending discussions that will occur when the pension assets of a host of First Nations are combined into a single envelope of investments.
For more information about the Wawatay facility at Black River near Marathon, contact Byron LeClair, Economic Development Officer by mail at Pic River First Nation, 78 Pic River Road, Heron Bay, ON P0T 1R0 or phone (807) 229-1749.