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Members of Pimicikamak Okimawin – the traditional government of Pimicikamak, an indigenous nation that includes but is not equivalent to Cross Lake First Nation – and other Northern Manitoba communities affected by flooding from the building of Manitoba Hydro dams in the past gathered at the Mystery Lake Hotel in Thompson, which is owned by Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation, on May to voice their opposition to further dam-building while the Public Utilities Board was hearing presentations from the public inside as part of the Needs For and Alternatives To Review (NFAT) of the Crown corporation’s preferred development plan.
“Hydro talks about partnerships with First Nations,” said a printed copy of remarks made by Pimicikamak vice-chief Shirley Robinson, who spoke at the gathering. “But its northern partners only make up about one-third of hydro-affected Aboriginal people in the north. For two thirds of us – in Cross Lake, South Indian Lake, Norway House, Grand Rapids, Easterville and Moose Lake – this so-called new era is just the same as the old era. It is an era of disrespect.”
“Our people have said no more dams, our elders have spoken, our women have spoken,” said David Lee Roy Muswaggon, a member of Pimicikamak’s executive council, which along with the women’s council, elders’ council and youth council make up the First Nation’s traditional government structure. “They said no more dams because in the Northern Flood agreement they said, they promised to assess the cumulative effects of existing dams today. We can’t keep building dams without knowing what damage has been done to the current river and lake system for people that do not hunt, fish or trap. Thousands of miles have been eroded. The ecosystem has been destroyed and decimated. Spawning grounds, everything. Our fish are no longer healthy. Our animals are no longer healthy. People need to understand that hydro is not clean and green.”
“They took our whole land away they took our fish and our geese and everything away from us and everything just flooded in that whole town,” said Livinia Dumas, who grew up in South Indian Lake and has been in Thompson since 1981 and homeless for the last seven years. “I was only five years old. I used to catch my fish all the time when I was in South Indian Lake. I used to go down the rapids, I used to go swim. There would just be fish there and there would just be aboriginal food that we needed. Our fishes and everything used to be good in South Indian Lake and Nelson House but the hydro just screwed the whole land up.” Gillam resident Ivan Moose of Fox Lake Cree Nation, which has multiple dams and generating stations in its traditional territory, said it’s clear that building dams permanently alters the landscape and the wildlife within it.
“They say they’ll bring our land back to the way they used to be,” he said. “I don’t know where they’re getting that idea from. It will never be the same. You all know that. You fishermen, you trappers, you hunters, you all know that. Nothing will ever be the same as it was. No matter how many times they promise or how much they promise to turn the land back the way it was it will never be the same, never will our river system. Our animals are gone. Everything’s gone. We have to go so far for our kids to go catch some fresh fish. Like my friend says, there’s no more muskrats left. There’s no more of the sturgeon is dying down. There’s mercury in sturgeon, there are diseases in our fish.”
“We belong to Treaty 5 and Treaty 5 people have never consented to build hydro dams,” said Tommy Monias of Cross Lake. “The Treaty 5 people are saying no more dams. That’s what we’re here for is to try to stop the hydro dams that are being built today and they’d like to build in the future because we’re not getting anything out of this at all. We have a sovereign right to these lands, a right that we should be able to live off these lands according to our ancestors, in accordance to Treaty 5, in accordance to our aboriginal rights. The court, the Supreme Court of Canada, have stated that we do have a right to decide how our lands are going to be used or how we use our lands. That is what we are here for. Treaty 5 people have not consented to hydro dams. The bands consented but we didn’t. Ordinary people who have treaty rights and aboriginal rights to this land.”