2016 - Ongoing
“Is this the only way to get power, by destroying water?” - Elder and former Chief of Tataskweyak First Nation, Michael Garson.
97% of the energy in the Canadian Province of Manitoba is produced by hydroelectricity. 75% of the power comes from five dams on the Nelson River, with a 6th currently in construction. Manitoba is proud to be a low greenhouse gas emitter and through that status claims to be an environmentally friendly energy producer. Growing up in Winnipeg, I always believed that story, unaware of the truth that was hidden in the north.
In reality the cheap, clean energy we took for granted was neither cheap, nor clean, we were just never the ones paying the true cost. Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake, Norway House, Cross Lake, Grand Rapids, and South Indian Lake are just some of the communities who have bared the burden of our thirst for energy. Each were either displaced or confronted with a landscape they could no longer recognize. Flooding, erosion, fluctuating water levels, collapsing fisheries, and the loss of wildlife severely impacted their traditional economy and cultural way of life, forcing many into the welfare state or to find temporary work on the dams being built. In 1977 the federal government and Manitoba hydro signed the Northern Flood Agreement, which acknowledged the damage to the communities and promised to remediate it by obliterating poverty and supporting the creation of new economies, promises that went largely unfulfilled.
“Hydro has done what residential schools were unable to do, it has destroyed our culture.” – Tataskweyak Elder Eunice Beardy. For these northern First Nations communities, dams are a silent oppression. Struggling against a slow violence, they grasp to the threads of their history and culture as the colonialist grip tightens, alienating future generations from knowing who they truly are.