By Dennis Anderson, Samantha Blais and Bobbie Mang’eli
Tour of hydro-affected communities – Misipawistik (Grand Rapids), Kinasoa Sipi (Norway House), Pimicikamak (Cross Lake), Makeso Sakaihikun (Fox Lake), Tataskweyak (Split Lake), O-Pipon-Na-Piwin (South Indian Lake), Nisichawaysihk (Nelson House) with Professor Peter Kulchyski and group of 12 on Wednesday, July 10 – Tuesday, July 16. Three rental vehicles – drivers are Peter, Jessica, and Dennis.
Wednesday, July 10
Leave Winnipeg to Misipawistik. Meet with Gerald McKay and have a fish lunch at his place – pickerel and white fish. Gerald provides a talk about the adverse effects experienced by his people from hydro development. A thriving fishing industry destroyed. The fish have disappeared and any that are left have deteriorated in taste and texture. The trapping has been destroyed as the animals have left the territory. People now have to go farther to hunt and trap. The fishing takes place only during a certain time of the year. People’s homes were bulldozed and the people were not given much time to gather their belongings. Alcohol came into the community and changed the community and the abuses experienced by the Indigenous people were horrendous. The rapids were silenced when the dam was built. His mother thought the world was coming to an end as she never imagined never hearing the rapids. The river was diverted and only a trickle of a stream now flows in the original river location.
Outside, giving an interview, I overheard one of the women that were helping Gerald with the food talk about how her kids and grand-kids are so scared that the dam is going to break that they sleep with life-jackets under their bed. That people are really fearful of not only of the flooding and impacts that happened with the construction of the dam, but they are still in fear especially with the plans of automation of the generating station.
One impact that struck me that Gerald talked about was the white workforce that was moved into the region to construct the dam. Gerald mentioned how his mother didn’t sleep at night for fear that someone would break in and steal her children he mentioned that she did catch someone attempting to steal his sister through the window once and then she wasn’t able to sleep after that incident. Take a walk to ‘Lover’s Point’. Take a tour to the ‘Grand Canyon’, then to the ‘24 Graves’ cemetery site.
Leave Misispawistik to Kinasoa Sipi. Lunch – sandwiches at Jenpeg Dam. Overnight at York Boat Inn.
Thursday, July 11
Breakfast at York Boat Diner. Boat tour – choppy water, overcast sky, bouncy ride – to Two Mile Channel and Warren’s Landing. Lunch at the Historic trading Site besides the bridge.
Leave Kinasoa Sipi to Pimicikamak. Meet with Darrell Settee and listen to his story of adverse effects and damages to his community because of hydro development. Very similar adverse effects – environmental, social, cultural, and health impacts. The water regime changed with the water fluctuations and causes ‘hanging ice’ making it dangerous to traverse. The river and lakes were flooded and the people do not know the water system anymore making it very dangerous to travel by boat. The fishing and trapping was severely affected and the people’s diet was 60% fish and that was decimated and the spawning grounds were forever changed. The land and water the people once knew was changed and they had to relearn generations of knowledge but there were a lot of ‘accidents’ caused by the changes. He also spoke of the new Lake Manitoba project that will contribute to the larger hydroscape, it will be used to regulate Lake Winnipeg (currently being used as a reservoir).
Leave Pimicikamak to Thompson. Dinner at Boston Pizza. Overnight at Quality Inn.
Friday, July 12
Complimentary breakfast at the hotel except Dennis went to the Northern Inn. Dennis had a quick visit with George Neepin. He mentioned a caribou story told to him by his mother and how plentiful they were and how close they migrated to the community of Gillam.
Leave Thompson to Gillam (Makeso Sakaihikun). Lunch at Kettle Park. Noah Massan providesstories of adverse impacts and damages to land and water and traditional territory and animals. Hydro blocked the people’s road – the river – and destroyed the people’s store – the land and the water. The Kettle dam was built on top of the sturgeon’s spawning grounds and the sturgeon have since deteriorated in taste and texture as well as other species of fish. The caribou used to migrate by the town but once hydro activity started, the caribou moved north and continued moving north as each dam was being built. Tour of Town of Gillam to compare housing provided for hydro employees in contrast to Fox Lake housing. View the Fox Lake monument in front of hospital and the Welcome sign at the airport.
Leave Gillam to Tataskweyak. Dinner at hotel – store bought pizza but four of the group ordered from Chester Fried Chicken. Overnight at Kistepinanik (Where they gather) Hotel.
Saturday, July 13
Complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Unfortunately, our host and guide was not able to make it. Quick tour of the community. Lunch at the hotel – sandwiches (again, no bologna!) Councillor Robert Spence arranged for three boats to take us on a tour of the lake.
We looked at various artifacts that were found on the various beaches on the islands. One of them was aged to be the oldest artifact found that far north to date. It rained lightly but as soon as we got on the boats, the weather cleared. We went to a camp with eight cabins and to Birthday Rapids. A storm was approaching and landed as soon as we got back to the community.
One of the boat guides mentioned how he still hunts and fishes, but he once caught a fish that had a tumor so big that he could hold onto the tumor like a handle. Fish are less and animals are being impacted by the erosion which causes entire land masses to disappear and become rock reefs. These rock reefs then make it dangerous for people to use the water the same because they hit them and damage their boats, or even hurt themselves.
It was on the Split Lake boat tour that we saw a number of eagles feeding on something on the shore. We went to investigate and found that it was a moose corpse eaten down to the bones. Apparently this was not a rare sight as the moose wound fall into the waters and be unable to get back on the shore as the eroded beaches could not hold their weight. The moose would end up drowning, like the one we were looking at now. Some minutes later we saw two caribou in the distance, a reminder of what lives are at stake. This was a stark reality of the impacts of hydro to the animals that depend on the lake and its environs.
Leave Tataskweyak to Thompson. Dinner at Santa Maria Pizza. Overnight at Quality Inn.
Sunday, July 14
Leave Thompson to O-Pipon-Na-Piwin. Quick stopover at the Notigi Control Structure, which regulates the water flow from South Indian Lake into the Rat River. Boat ride on South Indian Lake – finally, a nice, sunny day and calm waters. Dinner at William Dysart’s camp – sandwiches prepared by Hilda Dysart (surprise, surprise, some bologna sandwiches). Continue boat ride then back to the community. Lunch at William and Hilda Dysart’s home – fish lunch (yummy). The devastation of the land is evident when you do not see any weeds by the shoreline and the trees are dead along the shoreline where the shore continues to erode. (This was seen at all the communities where we went on a boat ride – Kinasoa Sipi, Tataskweyak and O-Pipon-Na-Piwin.) The diversion of the Churchill river flooded South Indian Lake and increased the original size by at least 3 times and the volume of the water by 5 times. I asked William how long did it take to relearn the lakes and he replied that some people are still hitting rocks and damaging their boats and motors – this is nearly a half-century later! Overnight at Churchill River Lodge.
Monday, July 15
Breakfast in the cabin. Unfortunately, our fearless leader, Professor Kulchyski, and one of the group, got sick overnight and couldn’t make it to Nisichawaysihk. Undaunted, the rest of the group carried on. Leave Churchill River Lodge to Nisichawaysihk to meet with Clifford and Carol Kobliski. Lunch at Carol’s place – delicious pickerel and bannock, which Carol mentions are not from the water around Nisichawaysihk because she doesn’t trust the fish there. Ariel and Tuty did an interview with Carol and she told stories of how life changed since hydro development causing flooding and changing the water regime and killing the fishing industry. We learnt about some of the economic and social impacts of the dams from Carol, she is including them in a documentary she is working on. Boat ride to view ‘The Footprints’ and learnt of the flooding that caused them to be moved in the first place. Sky was overcast (just finished raining) but water was fairly calm.
Leave Nisichawaysihk to Thompson. Dinner at Boston Pizza except Dennis went to Popeye’s. Overnight at Quality Inn.
Tuesday, July 16
Complimentary breakfast in hotel. Two people – Dana and Francisco – left the group because of other prior commitments. They are on their way to The Pas.
Leave Thompson to Misipawistik. Brief stop at Pisew Falls. Magnificent falls. Reminded the others to listen to the falls and that is what Gerald McKay at Misipawistik was speaking of when he mentioned that they could hear the falls 24/7 and now they have been quieted. Similar to other rapids and falls on Kiché Sipi where hydro has built their hydro-generating stations (dams). Dennis mentioned an ironic statement on the Pisew Falls sign, “Pisew Falls are a majestic treasure of northern Manitoba.” when the province authorized hydro to flood other falls and rapids on Kiché Sipi. Another brief stop at Little Limestone Lake (Mosaikahikun Cree Nation) to see how clear the lake is giving us a glimpse at what the waters (lakes and rivers) were prior to hydro development.
Lunch at the Pelican Nest in Misipawistik.
Leave Misipawistik to Winnipeg. End of tour – said our goodbyes to all the others with memories of a good trip. A very informative, memorable, trip and meeting new people was tremendous with the amount of knowledge they have from prior to hydro development then watching the devastation of the land and water during construction and the continuing saga of hydro indifference to the Indigenous people’s plight.
We drove for over 3,300 kilometers (that’s over 2,000 miles converted) and the amazing thing is we had 3 vehicles and no flat tires, which is incredible the amount of dirt roads we traveled.
Featured image by Ariel