Along with billboards placed around the city of Winnipeg, an online petition is calling for the minister of Conservation and Climate in Manitoba to deny the final license needed to continue with the Churchill River diversion (CRD) program.
“Manitoba Hydro, a crown corporation, flooded and destroyed the land at O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation/South Indian Lake in 1974 when they diverted the Churchill River to generate Hydroelectric power,” says the petition which was started by Angela Levasseur, a former resident of the community.
“In doing so, they caused immeasurable environmental devastation to the lands, rivers, and lakes- destroying entire ecosystems and polluting aquatic and non-aquatic wildlife. The socio-economic effects of this mass destruction in the name of progress have been immeasurable to the community’s Indigenous people and are still being felt today.”
The river is located in the northern part of the province and the final license would support of a series of dams.
The petition has garnered over 50,000 signatures.
Manitoba Hydro has been operating the CRD program since the early 1970s. It essentially flooded a number of rivers and has had a dire impact on a number of communities in northern Manitoba.
The CRD forced the community of O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, also known as South Indian Lake to relocate.
Leslie Dysart is the CEO of the Community Association of South Indian Lake.
He said the community was forced to move and eventually the fish populations will be depleted as well.
“Everybody was told they had to move, many of the community members didn’t want to move but they were forced to relocate,” Dysart said.
“It’s collapsed the lake whitefish population. Our lake whitefish fishery was the third largest in North America before Manitoba Hydro showed up.”
Targeted billboards and bus shelter ads, paid for by change.org, are calling out Minister Sarah Guillemard in response to an upcoming decision regarding the Churchill River diversion.
Also, what was once home to a successful commercial whitefish fishery has been depleted according to the community.
Decades of interim one year licenses have been approved by the province, and now a decision is nearing in regards to a permanent license being granted to Manitoba Hydro.
Chief Shirley Ducharme said the province has not properly consulted the community about the license and the diversion.
“We are saying as a First Nation, for so many years we have been trying to get the consultation that we needed. They are saying ‘yes your First Nation has been consulted but we don’t see it. It’s not full, still, there still needs to be consultation and to you know help us, give us a say on what happens in the future for us,” she said.
The Manitoba government will also be making a decision on giving a permanent licence to the augmented flow program.
The augmented flow program involves deviating from the range of water levels and flows stipulated in the Interim licence.
That program, which has been around since 1986, and is approved yearly, changes water levels and flows on Southern Indian Lake to also power generating stations.
Jim Senka is a former Manitoba Hydro worker and worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He described why raising the water level is an issue for the water and the community.
“The problem with raising the water level of the lake is that the water comes into contact with new soil its never been in contact with and those soil have got heavy metals in them like mercury is the one that showed up the most so they’re gonna end up in the water and in the fish, resulting in effecting the fishery, you know they can’t use those fish,” he said.
“It’s a really big thing for those people, it might be big money for Manitoba Hydro but we have to think about people first.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said a decision will be made soon.
“The minister is currently reviewing the consultation summary materials and is expected to make a licensing decision in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Manitoba Hydro said in a statement they are committed to working with communities.
“Manitoba hydro is committed to working with Indigenous communities to address historic and more current concerns regarding hydroelectric development,” said Bruce Owen, media relations officer with Manitoba Hydro.
Owen added that hydro developments were much different in the past than they are today.
“We acknowledge that the context of early hydroelectric developments in the province was very different than today. Developments such as the CRD were undertaken in accordance with the environmental and regulatory standards and frameworks of the time.”