Most Manitobans are aware of the massive power generating project that Manitoba Hydro has created in the northern half of this Province. On the positive side, this project creates revenue for the corporation and Manitobans. I would like to point out, however that there is a very dark side to this story that needs to be told
I’ve travelled a lot in my 77 years and have enjoyed the friendship of people in 35 different countries. One of the most profound sojourns was three years I spent in South Indian Lake (O Pipon Na Piwin). This was certainly not because of any abundance of ‘luxury’, but there was something special about the people there. I rarely saw anger but rather a consistent respect they had for each other and the social structure was non-hierarchical for the most part. I’ve seen some of that in places like Denmark but I didn’t expect to see it in the bush in northern Manitoba. Decades later I took a university course on indigenous culture and then it struck me – that culture was similar to the pre-contact way of life. I’ve heard many visitors comment on what a special place O Pipon Na Piwin was – all in reference to the people there.
It was also a prosperous place – consistently yielding over 1 million pounds of Whitefish annually. The pickerel and trapping added to this bounty, completely supporting the community. There was no welfare. Outside law enforcement was unnecessary.
Then in the early 70’s Manitoba Hydro decided without the consent of the people of the area, that it needed to divert the Churchill River’s flow into the Nelson to provide a few more feet of water for their series of power dams. This virtually dried up the Churchill River below O Pipon Na Piwin, seriously damaging close to 300 miles of wildlife habitat that counted on that river, including for example a healthy population of Sturgeon. These archaic giants of the water face numerous threats to their survival. Despite surviving on Earth for millions of years, sturgeon are now vulnerable to overfishing and interference in their natural habitat. According to IUCN, sturgeon are “more critically endangered than any other group of species”. This is but a small example of the damage done to the Churchill River by Manitoba Hydro in it’s thoughtless quest to make money. In O Pipon Na Piwin, the water level increase of 10 feet resulted in leaching heavy metals including Mercury into the lake destroying the fishery.
There is no employment in O Pipon Na Piwin – the area is not the same – it’s heart-breaking.
Manitoba Hydro has been allowed, on a year to year basis to change the water level to suit their needs on the Nelson River. Every time they do that, more damage is caused. Now they want permission from the Manitoba Government to do this damage in perpetuity.
It’s time for people to be aware of this travesty and to stand up to the politicians who do things like this with no regard for people like the Cree people of O Pipon Na Piwin.