Press Release-Cree Presenters Expose Manitoba Hydro at UN Forum

For Immediate Release

1 May 2019

Cree Presenters Expose Manitoba Hydro at UN Forum

New York City — On Monday, April 29, representatives from three northern First Nations told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues about the long-standing and ongoing damage caused by hydropower mega-projects in Manitoba. The five largest rivers in Manitoba have been dramatically and permanently altered by Manitoba Hydro, resulting in decades of environmental harm and human suffering.

Presenters included:

  • Chief Shirley Ducharme and Les Dysart of O Pipon-Na-piwin Cree Nation (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.

Chief Ducharme recalled the pride with which her late father, a fisherman, would come in the house with a bountiful catch by which he provided for the family. The lake was once the third largest whitefish fishery in North America. As the impacts of flooding the lake depleted the fishery, Ducharme said her dad changed into a different person, “no longer coming in proud.”

Now she cannot bear to go to his old fish camp because his cabin is almost falling into the lake due to excessive shoreline erosion. And though she wants to share the traditional ways with her grandchildren she cannot bear to take them there either.

Southern Indian Lake—the fourth largest lake in Manitoba—was raised by about three meters starting in the mid-1970s as part of an effort to divert 75 percent of the flow of the second largest river in Manitoba toward hydropower dams. 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. The once thriving fishery is now barely hanging on with annual catches less than a tenth of what they once were.

The province allows Manitoba Hydro to operate the diversion scheme well outside the parameters of the original license. Presenters at the UN outlined specific steps that would improve the situation. One such step is for the province to no longer allow the license deviations, known as the Augmented Flow Program (AFP). “All the [government] minster has to do is not sign the letter,” said Les Dysart, referring to an annual letter approving the AFP deviations.

“We will stand against the Augmented Flow Program,” added Chief Ducharme.

Manitoba Hydro has signed partnership agreements with roughly one-third of hydro-affected peoples in Northern Manitoba, not including O Pipon-Na-piwin Cree Nation.

The Cree representatives who visited the UN are members of Wa Ni Ska Tan: An Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities, a cross-regional research alliance focused on the implications of hydropower for environments and Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. Based at the University of Manitoba, the alliance is comprised of representatives from twenty-four Cree (Ininew/Inniniwak), Anishinaabe, and Métis nations, twenty-two researchers, and fourteen social justice and environmental NGOs. It also incorporates nine universities from Canada and the United States.

Print quality photos from New York and South Indian Lake are available upon request.

A link to audio recordings of the presentations can be provided as soon as they are posted on the UN website.


– Les Dysart, CEO, Community Association of South Indian Lake

– Dr. Jarvis Brownlie, Professor, Dept. of History, University of Manitoba

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