This is part one of a three-part series called The Silence of the Dams: Canada’s False Green Genocide.
Across the land known as Canada, growing numbers of indigenous nations are being attacked again by colonial governments carrying out devastating invasions in the name of green energy and “reconciliation”.
While forced relocations, flooding of traditional areas, destruction of traditional rural food webs, a legacy of poisoned water, and the criminalization of land and water defenders have a long history, the 2020s represents a dangerous decade in which the growing demand for non-fossil fuels – based energy sources will oppose the creation of national sacrificial zones in indigenous territories.
Last summer, Manitoba Hydro began flooding 45 square kilometers of Cree land on the massive Keeyask Dam, which the utility company is running acknowledges will lead to “inland and coastal habitat loss”. In addition:
“Birds and animals are being driven out of flooded areas. …[There will be] Changes in traditional harvesting areas and travel routes on water and land, loss of culturally significant areas and the possibility of loss of unknown cultural resources. “
In a disgusting new twist, it was done in the name of solemn recognition of the acts of genocide they were about to commit. The massive energy supplier explains in a Press release:
“Manitoba Hydro recognizes and values that the culture, spirituality and wellbeing of the Cree are based on respect for the relationship and balance between people, land and water and all other living beings [dam] The congestion and its effects cannot be separated from the larger surroundings. “
A brilliant one Handout Manitoba Hydro is going to great lengths to claim these losses are “recognized” in what appears to be the new government rationale for invading and destroying indigenous nations. Because “cultural ceremonies” were held at the Keeyask site “to acknowledge the changes in the environment and the surrounding land of the ancestors,” Manitoba Hydro seems to conclude that these devastating changes are indeed beneficial.
Behind the noble-sounding, glowing language of “partnerships” and “honor” hides a completely different reality. Earlier this year, Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) asked the United Nations to take action to repair the country’s drinking water, which has been under the Water Council since 2017. One of the reasons the water is undrinkable is the presence of cyanobacteria, which the US Centers for Disease Control a notice belong “to the strongest known natural poisons.”
In a letter of support, NDP MP Niki Ashton said remind the UN that “many First Nations across the country are unable to comply with public health guidelines because of the lack of clean tap water. Again, First Nations have been forced to pay the price for Canada’s inaction . “
TCN is part of a class action along with Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation legal action against Canada for “failure to handle prolonged drinking water warnings on First Nations reservations across Canada”.
Last summer, a number of indigenous women from TCN occupied a piece of land that should be flooded. It housed the sacred site of a memorial to Leon Kitchekeesik, who fell through the ice of the Nelson River at the age of 7 and whose remains have never been found. A memorial had been erected where the relatives had last seen Leon, and while parishioners planned to move the memorial to a higher elevation, the Keeyask Dam builders began to flood the area around the holy site, and without going to the congregation, removed the memorial and put it into storage.
Leon’s sister Marilyn Mazurat, said CBC: “We needed our time with Leon. My heart broke because it was like losing him all over again. I was so angry. You basically desecrated his resting place.”
Manitoba Hydro wrote to MP Niki Ashton – who had raised concerns about the confiscation while families were gathered in the flood zone – that they “recognizes that the removal of Leon’s cross is a deeply emotional and difficult process for the family, and we have taken care to show understanding and respect in all interactions on this matter. “
Members of Leon’s family requested that the memorial cross be returned to its original location, Leon’s Island, and stated that they would move it when they were ready and a more suitable location could be prepared. To prevent further violations, family members occupied the area to prevent the flooding. They asked Manitoba Hydro to delay flooding, but the utility company refused.
Janet McIvor, another of Leon’s siblings, referenced a sign at the Keyyask Dam site with the word respect. “Why are you writing that word if you haven’t shown us respect? You should remove that sign.”
Colonial division and rule
The night the cast began, I spoke to a group of TCN members. The seizure of Keeyask had already begun and urgent messages had been sent to Manitoba Hydro to stop as any further release of water could drown Leon’s loved ones. Crowded around a cell phone, community members shared their stories of the lack of advice, frustration at being treated as mere signs, and the rifts created in the community by the divide-and-rule games of colonial society.
An example of Manitoba Hydro’s wolf-in-sheep approach were poorly attended meetings where it was acknowledged in advance of this project that there would be significant harmful effects.
Meg Sheehan of the Northeast MegaDam Resistance Coalition stated, “Because of Hydro’s irresponsible and dangerous practices, the water and fish in their lakes are unsuitable for consumption and dangerous for swimming, with a punishing skin reaction to anyone who enters the water. “
Sheehan pointed out that in addition to having a significant impact on traditional ways of life and the country’s food web, at a time of great food insecurity, Manitoba Hydro makes the injury worse by sending exorbitant bills for hydropower that are beyond the reach of community members.
“Imagine if someone who never gave Hydro permission to invade their land is now billed for over $ 1,000 a month just for using some of the energy that in many ways was stolen right under them she said.
Notably, Keeyask was initiated by the former NDP government of Gary Doer, who at the time exulting that “hydropower is Manitoba’s oil.” Such a triumph of green energy cannot hide the devastating effects of mega dams, especially on the disproportionately affected indigenous peoples.
Across Canada, the construction and operation of mega-dams has resulted in even more methylmercury poisoning from traditional country foods that local communities rely on. Canadian dam builders around the world have had a similarly destructive record.
Electricity from large (over 30 MW) hydraulic dams is dirty energy Sheehan calls “blood megawatts”. science shows that they are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas accelerator that is far more dangerous than carbon dioxide. They destroy indigenous cultures, biodiversity and carbon-sequestering forests. They have disrupted and disrupted millennia-old migration patterns of fish and other wildlife that make up the food webs of millions of people around the world.
The 1997 report the World Commission on Dams concluded:
“The dam debate is centered around issues of justice, governance, justice and power… In too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to ensure safety [dams’] Benefits, particularly socially and environmentally, from displaced persons, downstream communities, taxpayers and the natural environment. “
Eventually, during last summer’s stalemate on Leon’s Island, Manitoba Hydro was forced to reverse the seizure until the family could gather at the holy site one last time. Canadian Mennonite magazine interviewed Mazurat shortly afterwards. She said at the time: “I find it difficult to accept the fact that the next time it goes down it will not be there. Everything I know and have loved will all be underwater.”
The $ 13.4 billion Keeyask Dam, like its brother dams at Site C and Muskrat Falls, is an exorbitant financial hole known to locals as being “Keeyask-atraz” for workers because of “a prison-like environment plagued by fear, intimidation, drug and alcohol abuse, and discrimination. “
ON report of the province’s Clean Environment Commission described the impact of the Manitoba Hydro Man Camps that invaded northern Manitoba in the 1960s and the subsequent epidemic of sexual abuse against indigenous women. The report’s authors heard from many members of Makeso Sakahikan Inninuwak (aka Fox Lake Cree Nation), including Franklin Arthurson, who testified that his late wife was molested for a decade just to return to her occupied home: a hellhole called the Residential School to another hellhole called the Hydro Project. “
“They just came in and took over. We were pushed aside,” Marie Henderson said the hearing. “They even went so far that they said we were squatters on our own land because they wanted the building to be built.”
The report too quoted a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, who “said that in the pre-development era, residents had everything they needed. Fish were plentiful, the water was healthy, and the land was teeming with wildlife. The community was self-sufficient. She recalled “As the parishioners were promised, the expansion of hydropower would bring them inexpensive electricity. Now, she said, the water was polluted and the electricity costs were astronomical. She found that Manitoba Hydro played like a ‘predator’ with humans. “
The predator known as the Manitoba Hydro has played a significant role in promoting similarly devastating projects like the infamous mega-dam of the Muskrat Falls in Labrador. An investigation into the Muskrat Falls disaster closed that a key report commissioned by Manitoba Hydro “was clearly and manifestly inappropriately influenced and biased in favor of the project”.
The second part of this series examines the muskrat controversy.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance social justice writer and attorney who coordinates the non-violent direct action network Homes not Bombs. He has worked closely with Canadian and US “national security” goals for many years.
Photo credit: @ ManitobaHydro / Twitter