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Hydro had “bigger impact” than residential school in Misipawistik: councillor

Hydro had "bigger impact" than residential school in Misipawistik: councillor

That is Half 1 of a collection on hydro-impacted communities in Treaty 5 territory. Click on right here to entry different tales featured in Energy Failure: The impacts of hydro in Northern Manitoba.

Justin Brake
Ashley Brandson
APTN Information
Rays of daylight peek via the timber and illuminate two dozen picket crosses hidden in a small patch of bush surrounded by the desolate rocky panorama of an deserted quarry.

Gerald McKay of Misipawistik Cree Nation examines a necklace somebody has appended to a tree. He holds the cross pendant on the finish of the chain and says he’d by no means observed it earlier than.

McKay, 63, is main a small group on a tour of the land under a big hydroelectric dam simply outdoors the city of Grand Rapids, the group extensively considered the gateway to northern Manitoba.

It’s the primary cease on a week-long go to to Cree communities in Treaty 5 territory by members of the Wa Ni Ska Tan hydro alliance.

Alongside the best way they’re choosing up elders and different members of hydro-impacted communities and bringing them to different communities to bear witness and share tales of how their livelihoods and lifestyle have been altered by the community of hydro dams on their waterways.

At present, the graves they’re visiting belong to the ancestors of McKay’s group.

The picket crosses have been erected in 2001, extra than three many years after Manitoba Hydro excavated the world to construct a dyke for the Grand Rapids producing station, one of many first main dams constructed in northern Manitoba.

McKay says the graves would have been bulldozed had one of many staff not been an area man.

“They started to dig up bones and they weren’t going to stop… so the local guy stopped them and they shut the whole job down,” he says, explaining work ultimately resumed with the small parcel of land being protected as crews continued to excavate throughout it.

Now the gravesite exists as a small island of timber surrounded by a desert of blasted rock and a dried up riverbed.

The Grand Rapids dam got here on-line in 1968 and was the primary hydro facility constructed in Northern Manitoba to energy the provincial electrical energy system.

On the finish of the dust street the place McKay lives is a dilapidated playground, and past that a small grassy knoll and a steep embankment right down to the water.

(Gerald McKay alongside the shores of the as soon as mighty Grand Rapids. Photograph: Justin Brake/APTN)

From the shoreline you’ll be able to see the spillway of the 479-megawatt construction embedded in the dyke — gigantic even in the space and accentuated by numerous seagulls and pelicans in the air and on the water under.

The group later stands atop that dyke, which runs extra than 25 kilometres alongside the shore of Cedar Lake. They peer out on the lake’s huge waters, the degrees of which at the moment are managed by Manitoba Hydro.

Communities alongside the shores of Cedar Lake have been impacted by the flooding. The individuals of Chemawawin First Nation have been pressured to relocate to Easterville.

And the individuals of Moose Lake, Cormorant and The Pas all share tales of devastation to their searching, fishing and trapping economies, and to their lifestyle.

The facility now contained in the pressure of the water towards the Grand Rapids dyke is unnatural, human-made — an influence as soon as represented by the roaring sound of the rapids, which McKay says you would hear from the group.

Under the dyke are the rocks that when belonged to these rapids on the decrease Saskatchewan River. A few kilometre downstream the river empties into Lake Winnipeg, the eleventh largest freshwater lake in the world.

Now, there’s barely a trickle of the as soon as “grand” rapids, and a scattered pool of nonetheless water.

“The old rapids is gone,” McKay says, pointing down on the riverbed. He explains that’s how the city of Grand Rapids “lost its name.”

“It’s just Grand. There is no more rapids — so even the name was reshaped. Most of the animals are gone, most of the fish are gone, and that’s the new reality I guess.”

Residential faculties and hydro improvement a “double whammy” for Cree

One of many researchers alongside for the journey is Ramona Neckoway, from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation at Nelson Home and an assistant professor in Aboriginal and Northern Research at College School of the North in Thompson, Man.

Neckoway has been concerned with Wa Ni Ska Tan since its inception in 2015.

Hydro improvement in Treaty 5 is private for her.

(Ramona Neckoway, proper, with Gerald McKay. Photograph: Ashley Brandson/APTN Information)

On the drive from Winnipeg to Misipawistik, the Cree mom and grandmother tells APTN Information that hydro improvement in northern Manitoba is extra than the results of anybody particular impression.

She says it’s greater.

“For me this is a cultural genocide that’s going on. And I don’t use those words lightly. I say that because I see that there are entire generations of children in our communities that don’t go on the water, that don’t understand the importance of that water to who we are, that have never left the reserve, this cage that they’ve created through colonial policies that have been imposed on us,” she says.

“To me, Nisichawayasihk, our territory actually is much bigger than the reserve that they allotted to us. And we were using that territory—my mother’s generation was using that territory, going to camps, going to these different spaces and actively using that land and that water.”

Neckoway tells APTN Information that over the subsequent week we’re going to see, and develop to know, the cumulative impacts on her individuals, their lifestyle, and on their id.

The violence perpetrated towards Indigenous ladies through the development of hydro dams is nothing new to the Cree.

Sexual abuse of girls in Fox Lake Cree Nation in the 1960s just lately grabbed nationwide consideration, following the discharge of a report from Manitoba’s Clear Setting Fee.

Since that report was launched, two separate investigations are underway to look into allegations of assault and sexual abuse by staff of Manitoba Hydro and members of the RCMP in communities in northern Manitoba.

Particulars of the allegations have been made public in August when the CEC launched a report on the consequences of a collection of hydro dams on the Nelson, Burntwood, and Churchill river techniques.

The case was referred to the Unbiased Investigation Unit (IIU), Manitoba’s police watchdog, and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) by the RCMP.

A Sept. 14 launch from the RCMP stated the IIU will examine the actions of RCMP officers in the area, whereas the OPP will examine allegations towards Manitoba Hydro staff and contractors.

The investigation is restricted to the Gillam area, however Neckoway, who has been interviewing members of hydro-impacted communities since 2004, says violence towards ladies because of hydro improvement is widespread in the north.

“We’re the caregivers, we’re the life givers, and the givers of treaty,” she says, explaining she want to see Wa Ni Ska Tan host a ladies’s gathering “to start talking about a lot of the issues that are unique and specific to women.”

Neckoway says the disruption to her individuals’s lives could be seen in the faces of the elders when she speaks to them.

“They come alive in those moments when they talk about that connection with the land and the way that it was,” she explains. “And I see that in my grandmother once I hear her speaking about it. She acknowledges that it was a tough life, nevertheless it was fulfilling and it was good at the moment.

“She saw these changes in the community and became so far away I think from some of the values that we have as Cree people in this last 40 years.”

Neckoway says by comparability “you can just see the sadness when they talk about hydro, and they talk about residential school.”

She says the Cree in Northern Manitoba obtained a “double-whammy” in the mid-20th century.

“We got residential schools, and then, boom — the hydro projects.”

“You only cried once”

At his home in Grand Rapids, McKay fries recent whitefish from Lake Winnipeg for the group of about eight researchers, artists, activists.

Standing at his kitchen range he appears wanting to share his tales as he sprinkles lemon pepper seasoning on the fillets.

(Gerald McKay serving fish at his house in Grand Rapids. Photograph: Ashley Brandson/APTN Information)

Each minute or two he flips them with a plastic spatula.

On the similar time, McKay’s frequent pauses trace at a ache that comes with reliving traumatic experiences.

Within the 1960s, when McKay was only a youngster, hundreds of staff flooded the group to construct the dam.

He says it’s the experiences from that point that drive him to proceed preventing for justice for his individuals and group in the present day, a half century later.

McKay says the quiet group was turned the wrong way up in a single day.

There was racism.

School buses would decide up white youngsters however depart Cree and Metis youngsters standing on the aspect of the street, he says.

“In the wintertime that was the hardest,” he recollects. “And you only cried once, when you were walking from here to the school. You didn’t cry twice, because your eyes would freeze shut.”

He recollects a narrative of a Cree household whose child boy was sick and wanted medical care.

“They took him to the hospital up there, then they looked at him and sent him home, and they went back and they sent him home again,” he says. “So they took him the third time and he died. He died in the hospital.”

McKay says when the household arrived again on the hospital, their son’s physique was given again to them in cardboard field.

He describes “perverts” and “peeping toms” roaming the group at night time.

McKay says at one level his mom, a younger lady on the time, caught somebody making an attempt to steal McKay’s child sister proper out of a bed room in their house.

“She was less than a month old and they cut the screen, and they were reaching in to take her, and my mother caught them,” he recollects. “So nothing was ever done about that. There was no investigation, nothing, because there wasn’t enough cops here.”

McKay says that after the incident his mom “nailed the windows shut for three years” and sometimes wouldn’t let him and his siblings depart the yard.

(The Grand Rapids Hydroelectric dam. Photograph: Ashley Brandson/APTN Information)

In the meantime, the dam’s influence on the native land-based financial system — primarily fishing and trapping — put McKay’s father out of labor.

“His jobs disappeared — one was flooded, the other one there was no more spawning, so once you caught all the fish it started to drop off,” he explains.

“In 1969, I feel there was mercury in the fish and hydro denied that it was them after which they shut fishing down and there was no compensation for anyone. All of us trusted my dad’s revenue to eat, and we couldn’t eat the fish anymore. That’s simply the best way it was and so my era would keep in mind all that stuff, however there’s youngsters rising up now that do not know what was right here earlier than.

“A lot of people say get over it — like, it’s already happened. Well, just because it already happened doesn’t mean it’s not an injustice.”

Cash in trade for a lifestyle

In 1991 Misipawistik Cree Nation — Grand Rapids Cree Nation on the time — signed an settlement with Manitoba Hydro value simply over $5 million.

It was certainly one of 5 settlements reached in the early ‘90s related to the impacts on Cree and Metis communities. Collectively they totalled slightly below $32 million.

In 2005, after serving as nationwide chief for the Meeting of First Nations, Ovide Mercredi was elected chief of his house group of Misipawistik.

That fall, amid considerations from group members that when the Grand Rapids spillway was opened new brush that had grown downstream would find yourself in the water, Mercredi and Grand Rapids Mayor Robert Buck camped out on the dried riverbed under the spillway in protest.

In 2015, Manitoba Hydro was required to use for a renewal of its 50-year working licence for the Grand Rapids dam, a proven fact that gave Mercredi and Buck’s protest energy.

As they gained help from their very own group and others, individuals in Winnipeg started paying consideration.

Manitoba Hydro CEO Bob Brennan paid them a go to — as did then premier Garry Doer.

Doer dedicated to new negotiations with Misipawistik, and in 2012 a settlement settlement was reached — although its particulars stay secret.

APTN requested interviews with Misipawistik Chief Harold Turner—who was additionally chief on the time of the group’s 1991 settlement with Hydro—and Mercredi. Neither responded by the point of publication.

Nevertheless, APTN obtained a draft of the settlement in which the First Nation’s compensation is contingent on Misipawistik’s “active support” of Manitoba Hydro’s software for the 50-year working license renewal, and on Hydro’s success in acquiring the renewal.

Based on the draft settlement, Misipawistik would obtain a retroactive cost of $three million, a $5 million cost on the signing of the deal, $800,000 a yr for 50 years listed to inflation, and a lump sum cost of $10 million in yr 50, which might be 2061.

However based on Misipawistik councillor Heidi Prepare dinner, the settlement will see the band obtain a flat cost of $1-million a yr at some stage in the contract that Hydro calls a “friendship agreement.”

The settlement has not been made public by the band or Manitoba Hydro.

McKay says the deal is “not as good as it sounds” and that the individuals of the group “don’t feel it.”

Little has modified

With someplace between 800 and 1,000 members dwelling on reserve and one other 800 off-reserve, Misipawistik Cree Nation is not any higher off in the long term following the 2012 settlement than it was earlier than, says McKay.

He claims group members acquired a one-time $500 cost after the band signed the settlement, and get about $120 each three years.

However the cash hasn’t eradicated the racism, or the poverty.

McKay drives us by way of the neighbourhoods, as soon as thriving with a wholesome subsistence financial system the place Cree and Metis coexisted as one group.

Since Hydro moved in, nevertheless, racism and inequality have taken root, their manifestations seen.

On the south aspect of the water is the Misipawistic reserve, occupied primarily by the descendants of the area’s unique Cree inhabitants. Many homes are overcrowded, McKay says, and badly in want of restore.

On the north aspect is what’s now the residential space of the municipality of Grand Rapids, a mixture of Metis, non-status Cree and settlers.

After which, just some hundred metres north of Grand Rapids, towards the hydro dam, a small suburban-like neighbourhood of Manitoba Hydro staff — lots of them dwelling in houses constructed by Manitoba Hydro.

McKay factors out the “hydro houses,” as he calls them, have two metres measuring power consumption.

One, he says, measures the power used to warmth the houses—comprising the majority of family power utilization, particularly in the colder months—and one other to measure different electrical energy utilization.

“Hydro pays for the heating bill,” McKay says.

In the meantime, many in the group wrestle to pay their very own hydro payments, he says.

The sense of injustice in his group is palpable, McKay explains — however to a shrinking variety of individuals since youth at the moment don’t acknowledge what their mother and father and grandparents skilled and misplaced, he says.

(Gerald McKay on the dam in his group. McKay labored for Manitoba Hydro for 4 years. Photograph: Ashley Brandson/APTN Information)

He says the 1991 and 2012 compensation agreements don’t keep in mind the lack of his individuals’s lifestyle.

“An agreement should be fair for both sides, not just one side,” he says.

“They should take into account, how many graves were lost? How many people were put out of work with the fishery? We’ve lost our language — how much is that worth?”

However the cash hasn’t restored his individuals’s lifestyle, and McKay fears that lifestyle might quickly be forgotten.

Prepare dinner agrees.

The 38-year-old councillor can also be a mom, and somebody who grew up not understanding her group’s full historical past till her 20s.

She says hydro improvement “had a bigger impact” on her individuals and group than residential faculties, as a result of most youngsters would ultimately come house from the faculties.

“But here with the hydro dam our home was destroyed.”

Prepare dinner says her era and the one earlier than her have suffered as a consequence.

“Our way of life was destroyed,” she says, explaining the inflow of hundreds of non-Cree staff to the group contributed to the lack of their language and their capability to exit on the land.

She says her aunt and different elders in the group speak about what life was like once they might hear the rapids.

“The sound of the rapids lots of people describe as being able to be heard from miles around. And to [listen for them to] know your way back to home. As a constant, subconscious thing, a constant in your life, to know where you are.”

She says the rapids have been “first replaced with explosions and the sound of heavy machinery,” whereas the dam was being constructed.

“And then with silence.”

She says elders have described “having recurring nightmares from the changes that were occurring on the landscapes.”

The impacts are inter-generational, she explains.

“I felt it myself, personally, that as somebody from Grand Rapids I was robbed of my birthright to know these rapids and to have this beautiful part of my home sing me to sleep at night, and greet me in the morning when I wake up.”

As soon as a Hydro worker himself, McKay returned to fishing about 20 years in the past, each to honour his father and ancestors and simply to be out on the water.

“Basically you’re just fishing to get EI — it’s not a good future,” he says. “My dad told me that a long time ago: there’s no future in fishing. But I wanted to be a fisherman because to me it was exciting — you never know what you’re going to catch.”

McKay labored in a Hydro management room in Grand Rapids for 4 years, “and it was boring,” he says.

He’s a licensed undertaking supervisor and has a enterprise diploma, “but I still managed to come back to fishing,” he explains, serving up a brand new batch of fried fish to his guests.

However the fishing is just not what it as soon as was.

“Last winter was the first time they ever shut down the commercial fishing season, because there’s no fish,” he says, including the individuals of his group.”

Prepare dinner says a brand new era in her group is preventing to get again what she and McKay’s generations misplaced.

“We’re not sitting here crying over what was lost without actively trying to stand up against and move forward from there,” she says including there are land-based schooling and language packages in the group.

“We didn’t get to where we are overnight, and we won’t get to where we want to be overnight. But we haven’t completely lost sight of where we need to be.”

A lot of the cash from Misipawistik’s “friendship agreement” with Hydro is getting used to deal with social and financial wants, primarily housing, Prepare dinner explains.

In a press release to APTN, Manitoba Hydro says it’ll “continue to address the adverse effects of our existing operations on the customs, practices and traditions of Indigenous people integral to their cultural identity.”

Nevertheless it didn’t say how it’s addressing these results and didn’t grant APTN’s request for an interview.

“As far as their lawyers are concerned, Hydro has met its obligations and is contributing to the community through the relationship agreement,” says Prepare dinner.

Just some years after the Grand Rapids dam got here on-line the second wave of hydro improvement started, and the story of how the Misipawistik individuals started to lose their lifestyle would turn into a standard actuality all through Treaty 5.

For extra, click on right here: Energy Failure: The impacts of hydro in Northern Manitoba

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