From: Will Braun
I work with the Cross Lake Native community, which is located about 400 miles north of the Minnesota - Manitoba border. The Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN) at Cross Lake is currently engaged in one of the key indigenous/land/human rights struggles in Canada. The pristine northern river that once sustained their community now powers collasal hydroelectric generation dams. The dams have thrown the fragile ecosystem of an immense area out of whack, and this has, in turn, severly eroded the very way of life of the Cree community.
My piece of the puzzle is to work at it from the end of hydroelectric consumers. I work through the Mennonite Central Committee, and a coalition of reps from the major Manitoba denominations, to raise awareness of the issues and to organize active response.
Manitobans have been kept in the dark as to the environmental and social effects of producing the power that we use daily. So public awareness and public profile is needed (though it is just a step, of course). Another significant aspect of the church involvement is that prominent church organizations have aligned themselves with Cross Lake and made it much harder for governments and the utility to publically discredit and generally bad-mouth Cross Lake (which they seem to feel a need to attempt). We have taken some public heat for this but it is a significant place to be. Without public support it is too hard for small communities to fight their formidable foes.Specific Actions:
Since a considerable percentage of power produced in northern Manitoba is exported to the US Midwest, we felt it would be logical to extend our work south and try to include interested American groups in the circle. (In this, we as church and citizens' groups follow the lead of Cross Lake who has stationed Ann Stewart full time in the Twin Cities.)
The rivers in northern Manitoba are only half exploited in terms of their hydroelectric potential. Manitoba Hydro, which provides some of the cheapest power in North America, is eager to increase exports to the US. We feel that American consumer have a right and responsibility to be aware of the issues surrounding production of this power.
There are various people in Wisconsin who are opposing the proposed Duluth - Wausau transmission line (forgive me if i am telling you about things you already know about). The opposition of the Lac Courte Oreille tribe is based partially on the fact that they don't want 'tainted' power from northern Manitoba flowing through their territory.
Manitoba Aboriginal Rights Coalition
583 Gertrude Ave.
THE SUFFERING OF CANADIAN INDIANS IS "SUBSIDIZING"
AMERICAN POWER RATES
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
The Manitoba Hydro power corporation produces some of the cheapest and most controversial electric power in North America. Much of the inexpensive hydroelectricity the utility produces on northern rivers is used to light the homes and toast the bread of Americans. At least 10% of all the kilowatt hours of electricity distributed by Northern States Power Company (NSP) is produced by Manitoba Hydro. While NSP is the largest US customer, Manitoba Hydro is linked to over 30 other utilities in the Midwest and beyond.
About one third of Manitoba Hydro's total production is exported to the US at rock-bottom prices. But Native people in whose backyards the colossal dams were built say that the low power rates are, in essence, subsidized by the suffering their communities experience as a result of the dams.
"Hydro exports millions of dollars of hydro power today. What do we get? We have mass unemployment, low esteem, despair, high suicidal stats...," says George Ross of Cross Lake, one of the Indian communities near a dam. "The South is benefitting at the expense of our misery?"
Three-quarter mile wide dams and hundreds of miles of dikes have caused extensive ecological damage to millions of acres, dispossessing Native peoples of their traditional lands. What was once a beautiful homeland, providing spiritual and physical sustenance, is now reduced to an environmental slum. This has undermined the traditional Native hunting and fishing economy and has led, in turn, to two decades of endemic unemployment, poverty and cultural upheaval.
In June 1999, an inter-church group representing the major denominations in Manitoba convened a public inquiry to examine ways in which adverse effects of hydroelectric development on Native people have been addressed. "As hydro users we have the right and responsibility to know whether the power we use daily is provided for us at the expense of Aboriginal people," says Thomas Novak of the Manitoba Aboriginal Rights Coalition, the group which held the inquiry.
"People at the other end of the transmission line are raising serious concerns about human rights violations resulting from hydro development. Hydro users have been kept in the dark on these issues. It's time for public examination of the concerns that have simmered for the past 25 years."
The inquiry panel--consisting of national church leaders, along with a World Council of Churches representative from South Africa--heard five days of presentations from Native spokespersons, human rights experts, top government and utility officials, legal experts and academics. Later the panel described "the situation of northern hydro-electric development as an ecological and moral catastrophe for northern Manitoba and its indigenous peoples."
In 1977, after construction of the dams was well underway, Manitoba Hydro, along with the provincial and federal governments signed the Northern Flood Agreement with five affected Native communities. This agreement allowed for the flooding of reservation lands in exchange for broad provision for fair and equitable treatment of the Native communities for "the lifetime of the Project." The comprehensive commitments include land transfer, job creation, community development, safe water navigation, and compensation for damages. The intent was that the communities would share in the benefits of the development on their lands, and that their long-term viability would not be jeopardized as a result of the destruction caused by the dams.
After 25 years, key provisions of the Northern Flood Agreement (NFA) remain unmet. While the hydro project has been very lucrative for the utility and government, they have evaded fulfilment of their NFA obligations. The federally appointed Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples studied the situation and concluded that "[The history of the NFA] has been marked by little or no action in implementation of NFA obligations and a long, drawn-out (and continuing) process of arbitration to force governments to implement their obligations."
To the extent that NFA obligations remain unmet, electric power produced pursuant to the NFA (over 75% of Manitoba Hydro production) is produced illegally.
The Pimicikamak (Cross Lake) Cree Nation is one of the Native communities that signed the NFA. This community of 5000 Cree Indians is located about 400 miles north of the Manitoba - Minnesota border. The people of Cross Lake are courageously and creatively leading the struggle for fair treatment of affected Aboriginal peoples.
Cross Lake has rejected a $110 million government / Manitoba Hydro offer to buy off their NFA rights. They insist that fulfilment of the NFA will provide a long-term basis for self-sufficiency, dignity and respectful relationship with government, while a one-time cash deal could do more harm than good and would be of little benefit to future generations.
As a way to address the issues, many Cross Lake residents pay their power bills to a community trust fund rather than to Manitoba Hydro. While the utility has a huge outstanding debt to the community arising from unmet NFA obligations, community members collectively pay $2 million a year to the utility in power bill payments. The community trust fund provides an opportunity to stop this backward flow of resources. The utility is receipted for these payments as reduction of its debt to the community. With this the people of Cross Lake have rejected beholdenness to an economic status quo which requires the sacrifice of their well being for the sake of the "greater economic good." They are now graciously inviting those who use power from their river to join them in working toward a more equitable relationship between peoples at either end of the transmission line.
In response to this invitation, some church groups in Manitoba have begun paying a self-imposed power surcharge to Cross Lake. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), one of the more prominent church organizations in Manitoba, is paying a 10% levy on the monthly power bill of its office building. "For 25 years the people of Cross Lake have been paying the environmental and social costs for the electrically furnished comfort and convenience of our lives," says MCC Director Marvin Frey. "We want to do something about this outstanding moral debt to our northern neighbors... there is something more important to us than cheap electricity."
In addition to the church-sponsored public inquiry, and the power bill surcharge, citizen-initiated actions in Manitoba have included speaking tours for Native spokespersons at schools and churches, visits of southerners to Cross Lake, public statements of support from church bodies, dialogue with top government and Manitoba Hydro officials, an academic conference examining the issues, and extensive distribution of information.
By the 1960s the Manitoba government was eagerly eyeing northern rivers as a potential source of power to boost the province to prosperity. In reference to hydro development and export potential,the Premier boldly said, "We can have our cake, we can eat it and we can make a bigger cake and sell part of that."
This cavalier corporate cake-making continues. The Manitoba Premier says he will instruct Manitoba Hydro to double its exports in the next decade if he is re-elected this fall. This would require huge new dams. As a supplier of some of the cheapest power on the continent, Manitoba Hydro is anxious to capitalize on the increasing interconnected and deregulated energy market. But increased exploitation of northern rivers (which have double the potential of what is currently harnessed) equals increased exploitation of the environment and its indigenous peoples. This power will continue to be marketed to US customers as 'clean,' 'green' and 'renewable.'
The people of Cross Lake are not asking for the dams to be dismantled, or for government hand-outs. They are simply asking governments and Manitoba Hydro to live up to the NFA commitments made 22 years ago. They are asking consumers of hydroelectric power to join them in struggling for a modest share in the great wealth being generated in their backyard.
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