For Chief Shirley Ducharme, it’s an image that she can’t bear to see anymore: the cabin at her father’s old fish camp on the shores of South Indian Lake in northern Manitoba which is almost falling into the lake due to excessive shoreline erosion.
“I can’t even bear to go there myself to see where we used to spend time as family,” said Ducharme, who would like to share the traditional ways with his grandchildren. “I haven’t taken my kids and grandkids there because I don’t want them to see that.”
Last month, the O Pipon-Na-piwin Cree Nation chief was among representatives from three northern First Nations to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York to speak about the long-standing and ongoing damage caused by hydropower megaprojects in Manitoba.
Joining Ducharme in New York were Les Dysart, CEO, Community Association of South Indian Lake; Betty Lou Halcrow, Chief of the Traditional Women’s Council of Pimicikamak Okimawin (Cross Lake); Dr. Ramona Neckoway of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (Nelson House) and Chair of Aboriginal and Northern Studies at University College of the North; and Dr. Jarvis Brownlie, Professor of History, University of Manitoba. They are members of Wa Ni Ska Tan: An Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities, a cross-regional research alliance of Indigenous leaders, researchers, academics and social justice and environmental NGOs focused on the implications of hydropower for environments and Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond based at the University of Manitoba.
One of Ducharme’s fondest memories as a child is of her father – who passed away last August at the age of 83 – bringing home a bountiful catch by which he provided for his family. Once the third largest whitefish fishery in North America, the fishery is now barely hanging on with annual catches less than a tenth of what it once was.
South Indian Lake was raised about three metres starting in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to divert the flow of the Churchill River toward hydropower dams. According to Wa Ni Ska Tan, the project permanently floods over 800 square kilometers of forest and drastically destabilizes hundreds of kilometers of shoreline, with many islands eroding right off the map.
“You take away a livelihood, you take the whole thing away: the traditional ways of Indigenous people,” said Ducharme, 63. “There’s never anything there (in settlement agreements) about healing. We do it on our own. That hasn’t been recognized. It’s the same impact as the residential schools had on us. It’s the same thing that this mega Hydro projects has had to us here.”
Ducharme is calling on the provincial government to no longer allow Manitoba Hydro license deviations, known as the Augmented Flow Program (AFP) to operate the diversion scheme outside the parameters of the original license. “All the (government) minster has to do is not sign the letter (approving the deviations),” said Dysart.
“We want that Augmented Flow (Program) stopped,” said Ducharme.
“The Manitoba government has not made a final licensing decision regarding the Churchill River Diversion project under The Water Power Act, however the Augmented Flow Program has been granted a one year extended interim license until May 15, 2020,” said a spokesperson for the government in an email.
According to a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson, the Crown corporation continues to work with the people of South Indian Lake and the Manitoba government and meets regularly with South Indian Lake representatives through the South Indian Lake Environmental Steering Committee to specifically review and discuss environmental change on the lake.
Manitoba Hydro has a settlement agreement in place with the Community Association of South Indian Lake and O Pipon-Na-piwin Cree Nation to address the effects of existing developments which was signed in 1992. There is also a 1985 agreement with the South Indian Lake Trapper’s Association to address adverse effects to commercial trapping, and a 1990 agreement with the South Indian Lake Fishermen’s Association to address effects on commercial fishing. Among other projects, Manitoba Hydro funds a summer boat patrol program on South Indian Lake to identify safe travel routes and remove floating debris as well as a debris removal program.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019