Hydro Development in Northern Manitoba, Canada

Massive historical and ongoing hydro development in Northern Manitoba has led to ecological and social devastation in Cree territories. Benefits are accruing to southern Manitobans while the costs are being born by the Cree communities in the north.


A first wave of hydro development in Northern Manitoba in the 70s and then a second one in the 2000s has had, and is having, devastating effects on the ecosystems and Cree communities. Cree communities and supporters have resisted hydro development through occupations, blockades, marches, public campaigns, and alliances. Resistance, negotiations and dam construction continue. This long running conflict has involved the development and operation of over a dozen hydro generating stations in the region.

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Basic Data
NameHydro Development in Northern Manitoba, Canada
SiteNorthern Manitoba
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsManitoba Hydro is the electric power and natural gas utility in the province of Manitoba, Canada. Founded in 1961, it is a provincial Crown Corporation, governed by the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board and the Manitoba Hydro Act. Today the company operates 15 interconnected generating stations. It has more than 527,000 electric power customers (Wikipedia - Manitoba Hydro). Nearly all of the electricity Manitoba Hydro produces each year is generated at hydroelectric generating stations. In 2018, their total generating capability is 5,648 MW (Manitoba Hydro, n.d.).

Manitoba Hydro has transmission lines connecting with Saskatchewan, Ontario, North Dakota and Minnesota. Ties to the Canadian provinces are of low capacity but a substantial portion of Manitoba Hydro's annual generation can be exported over the tie to Minnesota (Wikipedia - Manitoba Hydro).

"Manitoba Hydro has a racially stratified work force: the highly paid technical and administrative work is done by non-Native southerners, and the few jobs that northern Cree workers can get are low-paid and menial" (Kulchyski, 2012).
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population88,146 (Population of Norther Manitoba as of 2011)
Start Date1923
Company Names or State EnterprisesManitoba Hydro from Canada - Proponent
Relevant government actorsManitoba Ministry of Energy

Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC)

Manitoba Provincial Government

Cree of Manitoba:

Opaskawayak Cree Nation

O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (South Indian Lake FN)

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (Nelson House FN);

Norway House Cree Nation

Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake FN);

Makeso Sakahikan Inninuwak (Fox Lake Cree FN);

York Factory First Nation;

War Lake First Nation;

Tataskweyak Cree Nation (Split Lake FN);

Misipawistik (Grand Rapids FN)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCommunity Association of South Indian Lake (CASIL)

Concerned Fox Lake Grassroots Citizens

Interchurch Council on Hydropower


Justice Seekers of Nelson House

Northern Flood Committee

Opaskawayak Cree Nation Local Fur Council

Opaskawayak Commercial Fishery Co-op

Pimicikamak Cree Nation, (has still not signed an implementation agreement and instead is fighting for implementation of the NFA)

Opposition groups in Tataskweyak and Nisichawayasihk

South Indian Lake Fisher's Association

Wa Ni Ska Tan: An Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities


Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition

The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Community Association of South Indian Lake (CASIL)
Concerned Fox Lake Grassroots Citizens
Justice Seekers of Nelson House
Opaskawayak Cree Nation Local Fur Council
Opaskawayak Commercial Fishery Co-op
Pimicikamak Cree Nation, (has still not signed an implementation agreement and instead is fighting for implementation of the NFA)
Opposition groups in Tataskweyak and Nisichawayasihk

Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
OtherEnvironmental harms include declining fish populations. Flooding has raised water levels and increased the levels' yearly fluctuations, disrupted fish movement and changed flow patterns (CBC, 2018).

Mercury has likely been released into the groundwater, and wildlife habitat has been destroyed (Kulchyski, 2012)
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Other Health impacts
OtherMany cased of rape reported.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other Difficulty traveling as higher water levels create slush ice in winter and increased floating debris for boating in summer.

Peopla can no longer swim safely in the waters because they fluctuate and are murky. Ancestral burial sites have been washed away by erosion.
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesThe Public Utilities Board proposed an order to implement a special rate class for First Nations residents to deal with unaffordable electricity bills being faced in the North.

Pimicikamak community has been enormously creative in their political resistance, developing their own governance system.

Creation of new alliances.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Although the communities' opposition efforts were sufficiently united and gained enough public support within the province to force a modern treaty on Manitoba Hydro, known as the Northern Flood Agreement, the terms of agreement were systematically violated by the province over the next decade. This was facilitated by the low national profile of these projects (Kulchyski, 2012).

“Among the reasons for Hydro’s continued colonial success is that it now deals with communities one at a time, so opposition is fragmented. However, one of the five NFA signatories, Pimicikamak (formerly Cross Lake), has still not signed an implementation agreement and stands outside Hydro’s current paradigm, fighting for actual implementation of the NFA. They have been enormously creative in their political resistance, developing their own governance system and generally making life difficult by trying to force the utility to live up to its promises. Whether they, and the opposition groups in Tataskweyak, Nisichawayasihk, and elsewhere, manage to make any gains will depend in part on their story getting a wider hearing in Canada and internationally than it has so far” (Kulchyski, 2012).
Sources and Materials

Clean Environment Commission Review of Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment
[click to view]

Green, Green Water (Documentary)
[click to view]

For Love of a River: Two Stories of Loss and Longing (Documentary)
[click to view]


[4] (Brodbeck, 2018) Manitoba Hydro’s dirty power — and dark legacy. Canadian Dimensions
[click to view]

[5] (Kulchyski, 2012) Flooded and forgotten - Hydro development makes a battleground of northern Manitoba. Briarpatch
[click to view]

[6] (Wikipedia - Manitoba Hydro)
[click to view]

[1] (Kulchyski, 2004) Manitoba Hydro - How To Build A Legacy Of Hatred. Canadian Dimension
[click to view]

[2] (von Stackelberg, 2019) 9 cases of sexual assault investigated at Keeyask dam site since 2015 'tip of the iceberg,' says prof. CBC
[click to view]

[3] (Manitoba Hydro, n.d.) Manitoba Hydro Website
[click to view]

[7] (CBC News, 2018) Hydro projects left environmental, social scars on Manitoba's north, report reveals. CBC News
[click to view]

[9] (Monkman, 2018) Human Rights Day rally calls on Manitoba Hydro to address effects of development on First Nations. CBC News.
[click to view]

[10] (Kavanagh, 2018) Hydro goes to court over special rate class for First Nations residents. CBC News.
[click to view]

[11] (Fontaine, 2016) Cree, Métis trappers and fishermen block highway in northern Manitoba. CBC News.
[click to view]

[8] (Fontain, 2014) Northern Cree occupy Manitoba Hydro dam over longstanding grievances. APTN National News
[click to view]

[12] (Miller, 2016) Northern Flood Agreement (1977). Pimicikamak.ca
[click to view]

Media Links

[13] Wa Ni Ska Tan is an Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities emerged out of the priorities voiced by hydro-impacted Indigenous communities. The Alliance consists of representatives from 24 Cree (Ininew/Inniniwak), Anishinaabe, and Métis nations; 22 researchers; 14 social justice and environmental NGOs; 9 universities from Canada and the US; and multiple levels of government.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Cree demonstraion Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten
[click to view]

Keeyask hydro Generating Station Sourced from: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/manitoba-hydros-dirty-power-and-dark-legacy
[click to view]

A protester holds a sign at the legislature rally on Jan. 18. Representatives from the four First Nations involved in the Keeyask dam project say they've been dealing racism and sexual assault at the hands of Manitoba Hydro's workers. (CBC) Sourced from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/keeyask-sexual-assaults-1.4994561
[click to view]

Flooded rivers in Northern Manitoba Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten
[click to view]

A series of hydro dams relative to the proximity of northern Manitoba First Nations. (CBC News Graphics) Sourced from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-hydro-clean-environment-commission-report-1.4798560
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorJen Gobby
Last update03/04/2019