Please zoom in or out and select the base layer according to your preference to make the map ready for printing, then press the Print button above.

Hydro Development in Northern Manitoba, Canada


Description:

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.

“A generation of Aboriginal leaders who had grown up going out on the land for emotional and material sustenance suddenly found their territory irreparably damaged: logs blocking access to shores; undrinkable water; water levels that fluctuated according to no locally known logic, making travel unsafe; interred bodies exposed; islands slowly washed away [1]. Whole communities were displaced as a result of planned flooding [1]. Rivers, once a pristine source of life, have became silty and dangerous. “Around much of northern Manitoba, ‘hydro’ is a dirty word, and for good reason. These projects have reconfigured the landscape of the entire region, drying whole rivers and engorging lakes. Mercury has likely been released into the groundwater, and wildlife habitat has been destroyed" [5].

During the first wave of hydro development, “the Churchill River was diverted so that it would flow into the Nelson and add to the latter’s rate of flow. A dam was built near the south end of the Nelson, which effectively turned Lake Winnipeg into a giant water reservoir whose levels could be managed by engineers" [1]. Although Manitoba Hydro assured everyone that the environmental impacts of the project would be minimal, and no environmental review was conducted" [1]. “The first wave of hydro development created a legacy of distrust and even hatred toward Manitoba Hydro on the part of many Aboriginal peoples” [1].

During the second wave three new dams were built, the first at Wuskwatim, near Nelson House [1], the second is Keeyask [5] and the third is Conawapa, also on the Nelson River. Two other dams, Notigi and Gillam Island, are on Manitoba Hydro’s wish list. The power generated by these dams is not needed in Manitoba, but will instead be exported to the United States [5]. Being that during the second wave, “Aboriginal rights were now constitutionally recognized, they needed the co-operation of communities where their actions had created a legacy of hatred. Thus, Manitoba Hydro offered each community, separately, a financial settlement for what were called ‘implementation agreements’. They succeeded in getting four of the five First Nations to sign on, which was sufficient to proceed with a new wave of projects” [5].

The inexpensive hydro rates they have made available to southern Manitobans, is paid for with ecological and social devastation [5].  According to the 2018 Report by the Clean Environment Commission, this is seen as a social justice gap: Cree communities “remain impoverished and marginalized, while their traditional lands are the source of power and profits that accrue to residents of southern Manitoba” [7]. Their "territories are again being treated as a colonial frontier” [1].

Timeline:

1908: The community of Nelson House signed Treaty 5 [1].

1923: The Great Falls Dam was the first of four dams built on the Winnipeg River. It was built without any consultation with the First Nation most affected by the project [5].

1960:  Kelsey Generating Station was built on the Nelson River without any consultation with the First Nation most affected by the project [5].

1965: Grand Rapids dam on the Saskatchewan River was built without any consultation with the First Nation most affected by the project. “This project involved the wholesale relocation of the community of Chemawawin to Easterville. It also completely disrupted the Grand Rapids First Nation (now Misipawistik), located at the site of construction, by drying up the site of the once-sacred rapids, flooding land, and every year sending more debris into the river and lake, making fishing much more difficult [5].

1960s: Impacts of Hydro workers arriving in Northern communities included: sexual assaults perpetrated by male workers against Indigenous women. “During this time Indigenous people were shoved off their land, their homes were razed, their playgrounds were bulldozed, their kids were segregated on separate school buses and their livelihoods were destroyed” [4].

1970s: “By the early 1970s, plans for further major hydro developments were under way, which eventually led to the Churchill River Diversion and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects. These projects reshaped the whole hydrology of northern Manitoba, to the detriment of six Cree communities”. When construction for these projects first began, the five First Nations affected came together to form the Northern Flood Committee. The community of South Indian Lake was entirely relocated and effectively destroyed as a fishing community due to project-related flooding” [5].

1977: Northern Flood Agreement (NFA) was signed by Canada, Manitoba, Manitoba

Hydro and the Northern Flood Committee representing the five First

Nations (Nelson House, Norway House, Cross Lake, Split Lake and York

Factory) whose reserve lands were to be flooded by dams. The agreement provided for an exchange

of four acres for each acre flooded, the expansion and protection of

wildlife harvesting rights, five million dollars to be paid over five

years to support economic development projects on the reserves and

promises of employment opportunities. The five First Nations were guaranteed

a role in future resource development as well as in wildlife management

and environmental protection. In return, Hydro

obtained the right to flood reserve lands as part of the Churchill

Diversion Project. Manitoba Hydro obtained what it wanted as it proceeded

with this massive project. The reaction from Aboriginal people has been

far from positive" [12].

1987: “The government of Manitoba and its publicly owned power utility decided the promises in the NFA were too big and moved to negotiate what are misleadingly called ‘implementation agreements’ – effectively cash buyouts of the promises made in the NFA. As of 2004, only one of the five communities, Cross Lake (centre of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation), has courageously refused the buyout and continues to lobby for real implementation of the NFA” [1].

October 2003: “The Summary of Understandings between Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Manitoba Hydro with Respect to the Wuskwatim Project” was negotiated. Steven Hoffman of the University of St. Thomas in the U.S., has said that ‘the agreement represents not the end of colonialism but its zenith’. The deal itself is deeply flawed. It basically involves a loan by Manitoba Hydro to Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) so they can assume up to a one-third-equity position in the project. That is, by assuming joint risk, they will become minority owners. They are not being compensated for developments taking place on their lands, nor are they being made into nation-to-nation partners in economic development. Rather, they are being tossed a poisoned bone” [1].

January 2004: “At a conference at the University of Winnipeg, Minister of Energy Tim Sale held up the Wuskwatim project as a way of meeting Kyoto Accord targets, leading to cutbacks of coal emissions in the production of power in favour of “greener” hydroelectric power from northern Manitoba. It would be good for the environment, good for the economy, good for everyone, according to the Minister”[1].

2014: Wa Ni Ska Tan, an Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities formed, shaped by the priorities of 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. The overall goal of Wa Ni Ska Tan is to explore both the positive and negative implications of hydropower for nearby environments and Indigenous communities in Manitoba and other affected regions across Canada” [13].

September 2014: Members of a Pimicikamak First Nation begin occupying a Jenpeg hydroelectric dam over longstanding grievances with Manitoba Hydro, including unaffordable electricity bills. The issue is larger than utility bills. There are issues of treaty rights to land and the NFA which isn’t being implemented [9].

 September 2016: “People from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and their supporters erected a blockade on a major highway in northern Manitoba, stopping trucks and equipment bound for a massive hydroelectric development project. Protestors are from two groups that have been attempting to negotiate a settlement related to the construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station over five decades ago. When talks broke down, they created the blockade to pressure the government back to the negotiation table" [11].

May 2018: The Public Utilities Board (PUB) propose an order to implement a special rate class for First Nations residents to deal with unaffordable electricity bills being faced in the North. The "electricity rates and the resulting bills place a particularly heavy burden on First Nations communities due to inadequate housing infrastructure and the absolute levels of poverty" [10]. Wa Ni Ska Tan launch #MB RateGate campaign to support the PUB order.

August 2018:  Clean Environment Commission report released review of a joint Manitoba Hydro/provincial government “cumulative effects assessment” on the impact of Hydro developments along the Nelson, Burntwood and Churchill river systems over the past 60 years [4].  “It was a nightmare, basically. And it put an end to a life of self-sufficiency for the local Indigenous population, as the construction of dams and transmission lines turned the ecosystem on its head, resulting in massive flooding, deforestation, blocked transportation routes, contaminated water and displaced game, the CEC report found” [4].  Though relations have improved since the 60s, the report found that there is “still conflict and issues of racism around existing Hydro projects” [4]. 

December 2018: On Human Rights Day, people marched through Winnipeg streets to raise awareness about the impacts that hydroelectric development. They were calling on the province and Manitoba Hydro to be accountable to the Indigenous communities that have been affected by hydroelectric dams in the north. They called on the government in Manitoba and the federal government to honour the treaties and the NFA [8].

2019: Report finds that there have been nine sexual assault investigations at the Keeyask generating station since 2015, four of which have resulted in charges. "We as the Cree Nation Partners are not being listened to. We're not being taken seriously about what's happening within the project. Racism, harassment, discrimination, even assaults, are happening at all levels within the project," said Nathan Neckoway, a band councillor with Tataskweyak Cree Nation [2].

March 2019: Province Wide Day of Action on Water and Hydro planned [13].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hydro Development in Northern Manitoba, Canada
Country:Canada
State or province:Manitoba
(municipality or city/town)Northern 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
Other
Specific commodities:Land
Electricity
Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Manitoba 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
Affected Population:88,146 (Population of Norther Manitoba as of 2011)
Start of the conflict:1923
Company names or state enterprises:Manitoba Hydro from Canada - Proponent
Relevant government actors:Manitoba 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Community Association of South Indian Lake (CASIL)

Concerned Fox Lake Grassroots Citizens

Interchurch Council on Hydropower

https://hydrojustice.org

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

http://hydroimpacted.ca/

Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition

https://www.mbenergyjustice.org

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
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



translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Refusal of compensation
Land occupation
Street protest/marches
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Development of alternative proposals
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Occupation of buildings/public spaces

Impacts of the project

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
Other Environmental impactsEnvironmental 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
Other Health impactsMany cased of rape reported.
Socio-economical 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 socio-economic impacts 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.

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Migration/displacement
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:The 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Clean Environment Commission Review of Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment
https://www.gov.mb.ca/sd/eal/registries/5714hydro/rcea_phase1.pdf

Green, Green Water (Documentary)
http://www.emergencepictures.com/green-green-water

For Love of a River: Two Stories of Loss and Longing (Documentary)
https://hydrojustice.org/media-2/

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[5] (Kulchyski, 2012) Flooded and forgotten - Hydro development makes a battleground of northern Manitoba. Briarpatch
https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten

[6] (Wikipedia - Manitoba Hydro)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manitoba_Hydro

[1] (Kulchyski, 2004) Manitoba Hydro - How To Build A Legacy Of Hatred. Canadian Dimension
https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/manitoba-hydro-how-to-build-a-legacy-of-hatred-peter-kulchyski

[2] (von Stackelberg, 2019) 9 cases of sexual assault investigated at Keeyask dam site since 2015 'tip of the iceberg,' says prof. CBC
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/keeyask-sexual-assaults-1.4994561

[3] (Manitoba Hydro, n.d.) Manitoba Hydro Website
https://www.hydro.mb.ca/corporate/facilities/generating_stations/

[9] (Monkman, 2018) Human Rights Day rally calls on Manitoba Hydro to address effects of development on First Nations. CBC News.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/manitoba-hydro-human-rights-day-rally-1.4940281

[10] (Kavanagh, 2018) Hydro goes to court over special rate class for First Nations residents. CBC News.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-hydro-rate-class-pub-electricity-court-1.4781082

[11] (Fontaine, 2016) Cree, Métis trappers and fishermen block highway in northern Manitoba. CBC News.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/cree-trappers-blockade-manitoba-hydro-1.3746010

[8] (Fontain, 2014) Northern Cree occupy Manitoba Hydro dam over longstanding grievances. APTN National News
https://aptnnews.ca/2014/09/29/protest-manitoba-hydro/

[12] (Miller, 2016) Northern Flood Agreement (1977). Pimicikamak.ca
https://www.pimicikamak.ca/milestone/nfa/

[4] (Brodbeck, 2018) Manitoba Hydro’s dirty power — and dark legacy. Canadian Dimensions
https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/manitoba-hydros-dirty-power-and-dark-legacy

[7] (CBC News, 2018) Hydro projects left environmental, social scars on Manitoba's north, report reveals. CBC News
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-hydro-clean-environment-commission-report-1.4798560

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[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.
http://hydroimpacted.ca/

Other documents

Cree demonstraion Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Cree_Blood.jpg

Keeyask hydro Generating Station Sourced from: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/manitoba-hydros-dirty-power-and-dark-legacy
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Keeyask_Hydro_Generating_Station.jpg

Flooded rivers in Northern Manitoba Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Flooded_and_forgotten.jpg

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
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/manitoba-hydro-dams-anf_proximity_to_FN.jpg

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
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/first-nations-protest-manitoba-hydro-keeyask-dam-at-legislature.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Jen Gobby
Last update03/04/2019

Images

 

Cree demonstraion

Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten

Keeyask hydro Generating Station

Sourced from: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/manitoba-hydros-dirty-power-and-dark-legacy

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

Flooded rivers in Northern Manitoba

Sourced from: https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/flooded-and-forgotten

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