re: proposed transmission lines Background on proposed MN-WI transmission lines
Transmission line - Updates: 2002 . 2001: 01-04 , 05-09 .
• 2000: 01-04, 05, 06-07, 08-10, 11, 12..  1999 .
  WI Wisconsin's Rural Rebellion
Model Resolution on proposed Transmission Lines
re: hydroelectric power Background on hydroelectric dams destroying Manitoba Cree rivers
Hydroelectric Dams - Updates: 2001, 2000: 01-03., 04-07, 1999

power lines
Hydroelectric dams
destroying Manitoba Cree rivers

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Updates: 1999

Page Contents: link to: Unplug Manitoba Hydro
link to: "High-Voltage Powerlines Opposed by Thousands", in Midwest Today magazine.

Nov. 9 - Transmission line rally in Madison
Hundreds protest power line plan
Group heads to Madison to criticize Wausau-Duluth route

By Lee Bergquist
of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Nov. 10, 1999

Madison - Kellie Carstensen and her husband lived in a trailer court for 20 years so they could save enough money to build the home of their dreams.

They logged cedar trees off their land near Tomahawk. They milled their own lumber. And then did much of the construction work themselves and moved in earlier this year.

Recently they learned that at least one of the tentative routes for a 250-mile electric power transmission line across central and northwestern Wisconsin would slice through their property.

"I felt absolutely violated," Carstensen said outside the offices of the state Public Service Commission on Tuesday. "How can a big corporation just come in and say that they want our land?"

The threat of the transmission line - the biggest built in Wisconsin in decades - spurred some 200 people living on or near the path of the line to drive to Madison and vent their criticism.

The group showed up at the PSC and later at the Capitol to air its gripes. Opponents of the transmission line became the latest local landowners to fight major energy projects in Wisconsin. At a time when Wisconsin is struggling to meet its energy needs each summer, opposition to everything from transmission lines to wind farms is growing.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay and Minnesota Power Inc. of Duluth, Minn., are expected to file their plans this week for the $125 million to $175 million transmission line from Wausau to Duluth.

Stung by electric shortages in recent summers, the state's utility industry, myriad business interests and utility regulators all say that the state desperately needs more power plants and transmission lines to move power through the state's energy grid.

One group in favor of the the transmission lines is the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, which representssome of the largest industrial power users in the state.

In a prepared statement, Richard L. Olson, legal counsel to the group, said northwestern Wisconsin is a power-deficient part of the state.

More power needs to be shipped into the area because there is an inadequate number of power plants in the region.

"The transmission grid is like a circulatory system in that every part of it is critical to making the entire system work," Olson said.

But representatives of Save Our Unique Lands, or SOUL, say that the 345-kilovolt transmission line would drive down property values and denigrate the beauty of the North Woods.

They also voiced concern that the power line's electromagnetic field could cause health problems for those living nearby.

The group wondered why alternative solutions to a huge new transmission line have not been proposed instead.

One proposed route of the power line would cross over a portion of 40 acres owned by Dorothy Stevens of Glen Flora. "It's just sad," she said. "How can they ever compensate you for the land they take away?"

Transmission lines are used to move bulk loads of power over long distances. A 345-kilovolt line is the largest capacity line used in the state.

The lines have increasingly been used - and overburdened - since the federal government allowed utilities located hundreds of miles away to use them to buy power from each other.In this case, the transmission line would be on towers 90- to 120-feet high every 800 feet.

Irked by the proposal, small groups organized along possible routes for the line, and then combined to form SOUL earlier this year. SOUL President Tom Kreager of Mosinee said the group has raised $20,000 and is ready to embark on a fund-raising campaign.

SOUL also is seeking state intervenor funding on the case, a matter which will be decided by the three-member PSC next year.

The group has also hired Ed Garvey, a Madison lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor. Garvey brought the group to Madison to press its case. Leaders of the group met with PSC staff members, who barred the media from the meeting. SOUL members also listened to speeches from at least seven lawmakers, all of whom encouraged them to fight the project.

The group will hire its own experts to refute the need for the project and buttress its argument that property values will tumble. SOUL cited a 1992 study in the Journal of Real Estate Research, which said that affected property values dropped by a mean of nearly 8%.

If the PSC ultimately approves the project, Garvey said, SOUL would file suit.

"This group is not going to be patted on the head and go away," Garvey said.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 10, 1999.

Nov. 13 - Wisconsin Rally Against Proposed Transmission Line To Crandon Mine Draws 100

Contact: Bill Ahrens (715) 275-3679

The Wolf Watershed Educational Project (WWEP) drew 100 people to a Saturday, November 13 rally to stop a proposed transmission line to the Crandon mine. It was held at the intersection of Highways 8 and 45/47 in Monico, 12 miles west of Crandon. The purpose of the rally was to link movements against high-voltage transmission lines, metallic sulfide mining, and hydroelectric dams. The rally also alerted local landowners about the proposed construction of a 115 kv feeder transmission line to the Crandon mine, which involves Right-Of-Way land purchases and possibly condemnations. Numerous motorists and truckers blew their horns in support of the rally. The Hwy. 8-45/47 intersection is on the proposed transmission line route and near the Venus substation that is key to the feeder line, which would emanate from a planned 345 kv Duluth-to-Wausau line.

Representatives spoke from the interconnected movements that oppose the Crandon mine, oppose new high voltage transmission lines through Wisconsin/Minnesota, and oppose the Manitoba dams that would be the source for much of the project's electricity. The representatives included members of the Mole Lake Chippewa, Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL), Midwest Treaty Network, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Mining Impact Coalition, Rusk County Citizens Action Group, U.W. student groups from Stevens Point and Oshkosh, and a spokesperson representing the Cross Lake Cree of Manitoba. A local landowner voiced opposition to the line, and gave rally participants to stop it. Bill Ahrens of the Wolf Watershed Educational Project read a statement supporting the rally from Rep. Sarah Waukau. He added, "This rally marks the expansion of the transmission line opposition into northeastern Wisconsin, and bring together environmentalists, farmers, and Native peoples opposed to the interconnection of dams, transmission lines, and sulfide mines." Participants performed theater depicting the toppling of a mock "transmission line" by shouts of opposition, and formed a circle at the end depicting the victory of "people power" over so-called "power lines."

For information on the transmission line connection to the mine, see the see SOUL site at For updates, call Bill Ahrens at 715-275-3679 or For background information, call the Mining Hotline at (800) 445-8615.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 10, 1999.

Nov. 19 - Pimicikamak Cree Nation statement to Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

Tansi! Good morning! My name is Kenny Miswaggon. With me is Cathy Merrick. We are members of the Executive Council of Pimicikamak Cree Nation of Cross Lake in northern Manitoba. Our people are the Cree Indians of the boreal forests and lakes of northern Manitoba. We live among the power projects that generate electricity in northern Manitoba. After Manitoba Hydro built these projects in the 1970s, 3.3 million acres of our traditional lands were flooded and destroyed, or made inaccessible to us. This has been a disaster for our people and the environment. But we also believe it hurts you.

More than one third of the electricity generated in our lands is exported to Minnesota. We have been told that some of Minnesota's utilities want to buy much more electricity from Manitoba Hydro. Will this hurt us? Yes, as it will cause more environmental destruction and human suffering. The mega-hydroproject, and the continuing use of the power it generates, has virtually destroyed our economy and culture, which is based on the environment. It has destroyed vast areas of forests, polluted the waters, generated large amounts of greenhouse gases of carbon dioxide and methane, and it has reversed the seasonal state of nature. It has killed or poisoned the fish with methylmercury, killed animals, birds and their habitats. Over the years, some of our people have lost their lives from drowning in hazardous water and ice conditions, and through a suicide epidemic, brought on b yhopelessness, mass poverty and deprivation of fundamental human rights.

But what is more important to talk about is the impact of buying Manitoba Hydro's power for Minnesota. Will it hurt you? We believe it will.

We know that the price of this power from Manitoba Hydro is cheap. We know that this seems quite good for Minnesotans. But we also know that Americans do not necessarily always buy items with the cheapest price tag, because they may end up costing the buyer much more. They can break down sooner. They can be unsafe or unreliable, and cause harm to the buyer - harm that has to be paid for.

Minnesota's energy use is predicted to increase by 44 percent between 1994 and 2020. By 2005, Minnesota will be 2600 MW short of capacity. So how is Minnesota to meet the increasing rate of energy consumption?

We believe you have at least four options. You could increase local generation from non-renewables like coal. Or you could increase your reliance on imports. You could increase local generation of renewables and increase local efficiencies. You can also emphasize conservation to a greater degree.

As we understand it, Minnesota does not want to rely upon reviving its old coal or nuclear plants in the state. And we also understand that you do not want to be net importers of energy. Importing a lot of energy may not meet reliability needs. We know that Americans are concerned about dependence, especially on a foreign power source.

Importing energy means loss of local jobs. Use of imported non-renewable energy, like coal and large-scale hydro, means exclusion or displacement of jobs and industries in Minnesota's renewables sector. And we have been told that Minnesota offers great potential as a leader in localized generation and fuel cell technologies, especially in non-urban areas.

But as long as you let Manitoba Hydro supply power that is cheaper than Minnesota's available renewables, these energy sources will not become significant contributors to your diverse fuel mix. If you let it, Manitoba Hydro will always offer its power to Minnesota at a price that prevents genuine renewables from getting off the ground.

We also believe that more and more states and countries will be mandated to increase their reliance on renewables and improved efficiencies. There are mandates now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and to reduce carbon-based fuels by 20 percent by the year 2005. But Manitoba Hydro's power is displacing renewables. It is preventing Minnesota's local energy sources from becoming established enough to meet these mandates in time.

You do have a choice. Minnesota could take the lead now, in its electricity restructuring, by increasing the renewables standards for all power suppliers, and by increasing efficiencies. We believe this will avoid a lot of very costly environmental impacts - it costs more to fix a serious, large-scale problem than to prevent it. If we do not prevent more damage from Manitoba Hydro's megaprojects, the costs of cleanup and catchup will probably ultimately be borne by the consumers, many of whom are now Minnesotans.

We believe making this choice will help you increase jobs and decrease costs. Conservation efforts may well cost the same or less than Manitoba Hydro's electricity, and renewable energy industries will help create new employment in Minnesota where it is needed.

Minnesota, with its very healthy economy, low energy costs, and a commitment to environmental protection, can afford to pay a little more today for power that will provide more benefits tomorrow. We ask you to consider your future and your needs, not just ours. We ask you to request and assess the full social and environmental costs of your hydro imports in order to make the most informed choices on behalf of your citizens.

We ask you to look at Manitoba Hydro's power as something that comes into and therefore directly affects Minnesota's homes and businesses. This power may start in our back yard, but it ends up in yours. We ask you to find out what it really costs you.

Ekosani! Thank you!

Impacts of a Large Mega-Hydroelectric Project on Bird Species in Manitoba

Kenny Miswaggon, Councillor
Pimicikamak Cree Nation
Cross Lake, Manitoba
Minnesota Ornithologists Union, Minneapolis, Minnesota
4 December 1999

Tansi! Good afternoon! I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you about the observations of Pimicikamak Cree Indian Nation in Cross Lake, Manitoba, Canada.

Pimicikamak Crees are water and forest people. Our traditional lands are the sub-Arctic boreal forests, lakes and rivers southwest of Hudson Bay. You can drive there in 18 hours from the Twin Cities. We call this place Nitaskinan, 3Our Land.2 It is very beautiful, and full of natural resources. Our elders tell us that we were put in Nitaskinan by the Creator to govern it and benefit from its beauty, and to protect it from waste and destruction.

In our culture, the women are the keepers of the water. All of life is connected to and depends upon water. Where there is no water, or where the water is polluted or misused, life as we know it becomes sick.

Sadly, all is not well in Our Land, and that is why I am here to speak with you. While we try to pursue our traditional hunting, fishing and trapping way of life, we are now doing so in the middle of what can only be labeled a world-class environmental slum. The executive director of one of your state1s prominent environmental organizations visited us in October. He was horrified by what he witnessed, and he now calls Our Land an "environmental sacrifice zone."

Since 1965, we Crees have watched helplessly as the government of Manitoba and its state-owned utility, Manitoba Hydro, diverted and dammed our rivers and flooded our forests. They did these things so that water can be stored in Lake Winnipeg and released when the demand for hydroelectricity is high in the United States.

The Churchill River which once flowed north into Hudson Bay, now flows south into a man-made channel which diverts it into our Nelson River, where Manitoba Hydro has built five generating stations. One of these dams is about ten miles from the community of Cross Lake. Northern Manitoba is relatively flat, and the reservoirs behind the dams look like gigantic lakes from an airplane. What you cannot see are the flooded forests, spruce bogs, rivers, wetlands and uplands beneath these waters.

When Manitoba Hydro came into Our Land, they did not inform us of their plans, nor did they ask for our consent. They never conducted any comprehensive social or environmental impact assessments. To this day, we still do not know how many plant and animal species have been threatened or lost, how many habitats have been destroyed, or how many of our sacred sites and landmarks lie beneath the water.

Three million acres of Pimicikamak Cree traditional lands have been flooded or made inaccessible to us. We have lost the equivalent of three of your Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Areas.

Canada1s boreal forests are important habitat for North America1s neotropical species, and Manitoba is no exception. What impacts has this twenty-five-year-old mega-hydroproject had upon the province1s bird populations? Unfortunately, the collection of historic and current data has been curtailed by the failure to conduct baseline environmental studies before the hydroelectric project began, as well as the limitations of an adequate road network in northern Manitoba. The province does not have a "Breeding Bird Atlas," so that the total number of breeding bird species in Manitoba is largely unknown. The total number of migratory species recorded in Manitoba is 380. Compare this to Minnesota which has recorded 422 species, including accidentals and rare sightings.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has identified 26 species of fish, plants and vertebrates that are endangered in Manitoba. Listed birds include the burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike and the long-billed curlew.

It would be no surprise, therefore, to discover that impoundments and diversions; riverbank, lakeshore and island erosions; water pollution; and methylmercury poisoning adversely affect neotropical migrants. The English translation of the Cree word 3ema-cha-ka-mik2 means dirty water. Emachakamik refers to water polluted from soil erosion and from toxic methylmercury.

However, we are unaware of any studies in Manitoba that directly implicate mega-hydroelectric projects in the decline of these important species.

Anecdotal evidence may suffice. From our location on the Nelson River, we have, on occasion, observed freshwater birds, such as ducks, sitting on nests that have been dislodged and are now floating down river. Obviously, this greatly disturbs us, because the same forceful fluctuations in water levels also destroy our historic burial sites. We use video to document every such instance that our hunters and trappers report to us.

In nature, fluctuating water levels create habitats for shorebirds and waterfowl and provide staging areas for breeding and feeding. But controlled releases in which water can rise dramatically over the course of hours or days, destroy these dynamic natural processes. Habitat like sandbars and mud flats that exist one year, may disappear by the time the next breeding season rolls around. For example, every year in the late fall, muskrats build their winter dens. And every fall, the regulated water releases flood them out. In a quarter century, the muskrat population has failed to adapt to the water regime imposed by Manitoba Hydro.

We know that birds are no longer feeding in the natural places, and have changed their migratory routes. This is my third trip to the Twin Cities and I have noticed that you have crows, pigeons and other birds which have adapted to the amount of trash in the urban environment. In Our Land, we now have crows, eagles, gulls and even ducks which are attracted to standing water and lagoons and because we are impoverished, to our garbage dumps.

Our natural shorelines have become repositories for rotted, flooded trees and have caused migratory animal and bird species to vanish. Our resident moose population disappeared long ago, because they could no longer reach the water. We regularly observe beavers which must travel across exposed mud flats to reach lodges that they built when water levels were high. I'1d now like to briefly mention the impacts of roads and transmission lines in boreal areas. Although utility studies throughout North America claim that such openings provide increased opportunities for wildlife by stimulating the creation of edge habitats, and allowing species to travel more freely, we know that incursions into formerly undeveloped areas have negative affects upon shy, interior-dwelling species, including birds.

We know that noise from transmission lines affects animal and bird populations, and, in fact, our people spend as little time as possible near or under the lines. We know that there are transmission line or tower collisions and electrocutions of migrants because we sometimes find the evidence. We do not know if animal and bird populations in our area suffer from high levels of electromagnetic activity, nor do we know if there are ongoing studies.

Speaking of these so-called "linear developments," Manitoba Hydro has said:

"By incorporating sound management strategies into existing construction and maintenance practices, Manitoba Hydro can sustain or enhance wildlife habitat and continue to meet electric transmission reliability requirements."

Given the size and ecological significance of Our Land, we find this statement to be a contradiction, because we are the only people who can testify to Our Land1s previous, untouched condition.

We recognize that your state1s conservation organizations have worked with governments and non-governmental organizations on both sides of the border to preserve prairie potholes and habitat for migrating species. However, we also would like you to know about the environmental costs even further north. While your conservation organizations work diligently to protect the region1s environment, we ask that you become aware of the vulnerability of the species in Our Land which depend upon the genetic diversity provided by an unflooded boreal ecosystem.

Mega-hydroelectric projects such as the Lake Winnipeg Regulation and Churchill River Diversion Project are not sustainable. The electricity Manitoba Hydro sells to you is neither clean nor renewable. The manipulation of water flowage in Our Land that replaced a thriving, multi-use environment with single-use, electricity production would be unthinkable in today1s more sophisticated world. But Manitoba Hydro counts on your utilities to downplay the ecological consequences, which are, after all, out of sight and out of mind. It intends to sell more electricity here in the next few years.

We believe that the more you can manage your demand for electricity, the more you can reduce the pressure upon the boreal environment that still remains intact. As its traditional protectors, we invite you to conduct the ecological studies that will demonstrate to governments and the utility industry that this is a resource worth saving for future generations of North Americans.

Ekosani! Thank you.

Cree official criticizes hydroelectric power

Travis Reed - Staff Reporter
DEC. 7, 1999 The Minnesota Daily

Every time University students turn on their lights, 10 percent of the energy ruins the lives of indigenous Canadian peoples, according to Cree Indian Nation officials.

Minneapolis-based Northern States Power fuels 10 percent of the Twin Cities' energy needs with power piped over the Canadian border from Manitoba Hydro, a 14-station hydroelectric-power producer operating primarily in the Nelson River Drainage Basin of southern Canada.

From the first station constructed in 1928 to the latest in 1992, the Manitoba hydroelectric giant manipulated river-basin water levels to generate electricity.

The environmental effects have been severe, said Kenny Miswaggon, a Pimicikamak Cree Nation elected official. Miswaggon spoke Monday to a University panel on environmental racism at the Office of Special Learning Opportunity's Human Rights week.

The plants have adversely affected the ecosystem of connecting rivers and disrupted the areas around them; in ddition to decimating native animal and bird species, unnatural water fluctuations cause river-bank erosion and shoreline destruction, Miswaggon said.

Members of the Cree Nation, including Miswaggon, say their way of life has been ruined.

"Every day, people are deprived of their right to live, right to culture and right to livelihood," Miswaggon said. "The aboriginal people and their land have been destroyed because of hydroelectric power."

To date, the Crees say 3 million acres of their land has been destroyed by Manitoba Hydro. They also suffer from high suicide rates, including 110 attempts
-- 2.4 percent of the population
-- since Jan. 1 of this year.

Miswaggon showed before-and-after photographs of Cree land. The pictures depicted barren basins, uprooted trees and headwaters inaccessible to local fauna.

The Cree Nation receives no compensation for this use of its land. Canadian law did not require an Environmental Impact Statement, and Cree officials say they were lied to about the plant's environmental impacts.

The area has been labeled an "environmental-sacrifice zone" by the activist group Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy. Furthermore, the United Nations has condemned Canada's treatment of indigenous peoples.

Ninety percent of Manitoba Hydro's exported electricity goes to NSP, making it Manitoba Hydro's biggest customer.

And people of the Cree Nation are concerned things are about to get worse.

This summer, NSP announced the need for an additional 1,200 megawatts of electricity by 2005. Ann Stewart, a panelist and U.S. information officer for the Cree Nation, said Manitoba Hydro is a leading candidate to supply the additional power. If chosen, Manitoba would have to double the electricity it currently provides NSP.

But Stewart is looking to consumers to use their voice to stop the deal. And she said Monday that University students can make the difference.

In the early 1990s, the Hydro Quebec's expansion was thwarted in large part by East Coast students who organized protest movements and caused a few key universities to divest company stock.

Stewart said those students used the power of their universities to make social changes. She said University students could do the same.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.

Reserve on death watch
Cross Lake battling epidemic of suicides, attempts

Winnipeg Free Press, 8 Dec 99, pA1 (lead story)
By Kim Guttormson

With a suicide epidemic described as "the worst situation anywhere in Canada," Cross Lake First Nation is bracing for the holiday season as its crisis line runs out of money and volunteers succumb to the stress.

Seven residents in the community of 4,000 have killed themselves in the past five months and more than 100 others have tried.

"I have a big fear for the holidays coming in right now," said Verla Umpherville, the crisis line supervisor, who is putting in anywhere from 10- to 18- hour days. "People who work here on the social services level are getting burned out. Volunteers are disappearing left and right."

An anthropologist living in the community, about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, calls the number of suicides and attempts astronomical.

"This is off the charts," said Ronald Niezen. "This is the worst situation anywhere in Canada."

Suicide epidemics are not uncommon in the country's first nations communities, but some of the trends in Cross Lake are puzzling its leaders.

"We've never had anything like this," said Donnie McKay, the band's chief executive officer. "It's pretty difficult to put a clear handle on what's causing it."

While the classic suidice victim in native communities is a young male, both men and women are trying to kill themselves in Cross Lake, and they tend to be in their 20s and 30s, McKay said, although attempts range from a nine-year-old child to a 59-year-old.

The most recent was a 28-year-old woman who hanged herself in her bathroom with a shoestring on Nov. 22. Since then there have been at least six more attempts. And Umpherville said there was another threat of suicide on the crisis line yesterday.

McKay points a finer at unemployment in the community -- said to be between 85 and 90 per cent -- as the only real factor he can see.

"It's a very emotional issue here. In a community this size, you get to take it personally," he said. "The community's morale is really kind of down."

Bob Brightnose, who lost a brother and his best friend to suicide in the late 1980s, has been volunteering on the line.

"There's a lot of unresolved grief," he says, adding he knew all seven people who have died. "You can't even finish grieving one person and another one happens.

"Everyone is at a loss as to what to do. And it's hard to look at long-term solutions (when) your main concern right now is keeping the crisis line going. Every weekend you hear about someone overdosed, they cut somebody down trying to hang themselves. It's an every-weekend occurrence."

The community has tried to resond to the crisis. At the end of September it began a 24-hour crisis line, which Umpherville was given $15,000 to run for six months. That budget includes salaries -- hers and two people she's just been allowed to hire -- and the rent of the trailer, hydro and the three phone lines. The money's drying up quickly.

"They threw me into the fire with a little water pistol, a bonfire, you might say, " she said. "I'm pretty much tapped out in terms of training."

The band council is now trying to find money to keep the line going -- a request to Indian Affairs was rejected because it's not within their mandate. McKay says they are now sending out proposals to any agency they think will listen.

No one from the province would comment because Cross Lake is embroiled in a lawsuit with Crown corporation Manitoba Hydro and has included suicide statistics in its case.

"It's hard to say how many lives it's saved," RCMP Sgt. Paul Currie said of the crisis line. "But there's no doubt in my mind there's been a significant number of lives saved."

Umpherville said the only connection she can draw between the victims is that a decade ago it was teenagers trying to end their lives -- a generation that would now be in its late 20s or early 30s.

Brightnose agrees. "It's just 10 years down the road. If you don't deal with it, it just occurs over again."

Police are also feeling the stress of the crisis -- Currie and another officer witnessed one of the suicides. They were called out to an attempt, where a man swam into the middle of the lake and drowned, and police were unable to reach him in time.

"Any death affects the entire community, not just service agencies," he said.

RCMP have helped arrange two suicide prevention workshops in the community, one in October and one at the end of November.

� Winnipeg Free Press Winnipeg Free Press on Cross Lake suicides$rec=4590?search

Ann Stewart wrote:

    On Tuesday, 21 Dec 99, Utne Reader will have its February 2000 issue posted to its website, with a link to the following article (including photo and map). The issue is on newsstands now.

Power Play
For this Manitoba tribe, cheap electricity is anything but

Bud Robertson
Utne Reader, February 2000, p24

As they plug in their toasters or watch a lightbulb flicker to life, most Midwesterners are blissfully unaware of a battle raging at the source of their electricity, far away in Canada. but thanks to the efforts of a small Cree tribe in northern Manitoba, that could change. The Cross Lake Crees are enlisting the support of environmentalists and human rights organizations in their fight against Manitoba Hydro, a utility company they claim has destroyed their livelihoods and environment. They've taken their cause to the streets of Minneapolis, rallying at the offices of Northern States Power Co. (NSP) -- which buys much of Maniotba Hydro's electricity -- and holding informational meetings with anyone who will listen. The campaign has one goal: to turn NSP away from Manitoba Hydro's cheap power and force the Canadian utility to agree to an acceptable compensation package for the tribe.

"It has turned our way of life upside down here," says Nelson Miller, a band councillor with the Cross Lake First Nation, a troubled aboriginal community nestled deep in the forests of nerthern Manitoba, about 300 miles north of Wininpeg. Their struggle with Manitoba Hydro began in the 1970s, when the construction of threedams on the Nelson River caused widespread flooding. The dams, which generate about 80 percent of Manitoba Hydro's power, displaced whole communities and irreparably damaged traditional hunting and fishing grounds. In 1977, five native communities, including Cross Lake, signed the Northern Flood Agreement (NFA) with the Canadian government, Manitoba's provincial government, and Manitoba Hydro for compensation. Since then, all but Cross Lake have taken lump sum payouts. The band wants the NFA signers to live up to the broad terms of the agreement, which promised greater compensation for present and future generations to help wipe out numbing unemployment and poverty.

As in many aboriginal communities, most of the band's 4,000 reserve residents cannot find work; alcohol, drug abuse, and suicide are rampant. Since 1976, 22 people on the reserve have taken their own lives, twice the national average. "These people are living with so much uncertainty it's got to take a toll on their mental health," says Ann Stewart, who was hired by the band to serve as its U.S. information officer. She has been leading the charge in the United States, meeting with environmental, human rights, faith, and aboriginal groups in the hopes of winning their support and, in turn, creating a powerful lobby to force NSP to turn its back on Manitoba Hydro when its contract expires in 2005.

So far, says Stewart, the campaign has been a tremendous success, with groups such as the state chapter of the Sierra Club and the Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota forming alliances with the Cross Lake Cree [sic]. After all, she says, thee is almost as much at stake for those living in the American Midwest as for the Canadian Cree Indians. "The biggest issue is that we don't know the social and environmental costs of the electricity," says Stewart.

And those costs are unacceptably high, both for the Cross Lake Cree [sic] and for the U.S. environmental movement, says Kate Kempton, a Toronto-based legal adviser and strategist for the Cross Lake band. "Buying that power hurts the Crees and the northern Mainitoba environment, yes. But our position is that it likely also hurts Minnesotans and other American states, because there seems to be a strong correlation between the purchase of cheap hydroelectricity -- which this is -- and displacemeng of their conservation programs and the development of true renewables, like wind."

But don't hold your breath waiting for wind power to replace hydroelectricity. NSP has no intention of giving up Manitoba's cheap hydro anytime soon, says Audrey Zibelman, the company's president of energy marketing. "Hydro power is a very important part of the fuel mix that allows us to provide electricity at a low cost, and reliably, to [our] customers," says Zibelman. "For people to suggest that we can eliminate hydro and turn to wind is highly naive." Not only is wind power far more expensive than hydroelectricity, she says, it's not plentiful enough to meet customer demand.

Zibelman also insists that doing business with Manitoba Hydro does not mean that NSP has turned its back on the Cross Lake Cree [sic]. After a summer 1998 rally at NSP headquarters, Zibelman and other company officials flew to northern Manitoba to meet with native communities affected by the dams. For the most part, she says, people there seemed happy with the compensation packages that have allowed them to move on with their lives. Cross Lake leaders, however, wouldn't meet with the delegation -- a decision Zibelman says was purely political.

Not surprisingly, Manitoba Hydro shares that view. "They are, certainly, trying to embarrass us," says company spokesman Glenn Schneider. And while there is no denying that the hydroelectric projects did not have an impact on the environment, Schneider says it is not as dire as Cross Lake leaders would have people believe. "Nature has a way of recovering," he says, adding that the company has taken steps to reverse some of the damage. For instance, it recently completed construction of a $9.5 million rock weir that prevents water levels from dropping too low in periods of drought and facilitates the passage of water more quickly in flood years. Since the NFA was signed, Hydro and the province have paid out $229 million to the four communities that agreed to a buyout, while $35 million has been spent on preliminary compensation and negotiations with Cross Lake.

That's little consolation for people like Kenny Miswaggon, a 29-year-old father of three who worries about his children's future. "I witness what goes on in my community every day," says Miswaggon, a councillor with the Cross Lake band. "Hydro brags about cheap power that benefits the South," he says. "This cheap power is coming on the backs of our people."

Rob Zaleski series in The Capital Times (Madison) Fight the Power:

Background on proposed MN-WI transmission lines
Transmission line - Updates: 2002 . 2001, 01-04 , 05-09 .
• 2000: 01-04, 05, 06-07, 08-10, 11, 12 . 1999 .
Wisconsin's Rural RebellionModel Resolution on proposed Transmission Lines
Background on hydroelectric dams destroying Manitoba Cree rivers
Hydroelectric Dams - Updates: 2001, 2000: 01-03, 04-07 . 1999 .
Midwest Treaty Network Contents