Solidarity with the Opaskwayak Cree Nation blockade against hydro-dam

Photo by Thomas Monias.

Members of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, the Misipawistik Cree Nation and Métis from Grand Rapids have blockaded the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 39 in northern Manitoba stopping trucks en route to the construction site of Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask hydroelectric dam project.

CBC News reports, "The protesters are allowing cars, trucks and bus traffic through, but they claim to have turned back semi-trailers and equipment that were en route to the construction site of Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask Generating Station near Gillam, Man., a further 500 kilometres north."

They are demanding that Manitoba Hydro respect their Indigenous and treaty rights, and against the Grand Rapids hydro generating station that was built in 1960.

The article explains, "The dam, which was built on the Saskatchewan River, required thousands of kilometres of land to be flooded — much of it trapping and fishing grounds used by First Nations, including people from Opaskwayak Cree Nation. ...Because of that, some people lost their livelihoods altogether, they say. Several of the First Nations and Métis people affected by the dam have already negotiated settlements with the province and Manitoba Hydro. But for the past nine years, trapping and fishing groups from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation have been trying negotiate their own compensation. Those talks broke down around two weeks ago."

In May 2014, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that electricity generated by the Keeyask dam could be used to power pumping stations for the proposed Energy East pipeline. The Keeyask dam would be located about 725 km northeast of Winnipeg, where Gull Lake flows into Stevens Lake, and would flood approximately 46 square kilometers of boreal taiga lands.

In October 2014, the Council of Canadians Winnipeg chapter was present at a rally outside Manitoba Hydro to support the Pimicikamak First Nation occupation of the Jenpeg dam. That dam is located near the Cree community of Cross Lake, which is about 700 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Chief Catherine Merrick stated, "The project has turned a once bountiful and intimately known homeland into a dangerous and despoiled power corridor." The rally demanded that "Hydro and governments honour their decades-old promises of environmental clean-up and fair treatment."

In January 2015, the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up a blockade to stop Manitoba Hydro from clear-cutting a path 65 metres wide for 250 kilometres through their traditional hunting and gathering territory for the Bipole III transmission line, a 1,400 kilometre power-line from the Keeyask dam along the west side of Lake Winnipeg and then to the city of Winnipeg. The ancestral lands they want to protect includes burial grounds and spiritual sites. The transmission line would also infringe on the ancestral lands of Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has written that Indigenous peoples have been disproportionately hurt by the construction of mega-dams and water diversion projects.

On September 8, Council of Canadians organizer Brigette DePape will be at the Bell Tower Gathering in Winnipeg to welcome a Treaty 8 Nations caravan protesting against the Site C dam now under construction in northern British Columbia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently granted permits for construction of this dam to continue despite repeated protests and court challenges by First Nations. Site C would flood about 100 kilometres of river valley and submerge 78 First Nations heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance.