Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake) looks very different today than it did about 40 years ago. Rita Monias, an elder from Pimicikamak, recalls playing by the river as a young girl, “We used to drink the water from anywhere in the river while we played.” It was so clean she says she remembers putting her little hand into the water, and being able to see the fish and bedrock deep below her grandfather’s fishing boat. Berries and water plants were plentiful and navigating the waterways was safe. Boaters knew where the rocks were and how the currents flowed.
Today when she goes for walks along the riverside, she says that it is sad that she will no longer swim in the waters that surround her. She won’t let her grandkids go out either, as she can no longer trust it. Navigating the waterways has become unsafe, as water levels are constantly fluctuating and the debris is dangerous, with currents being altered as Jenpeg helps regulate the water levels in Lake Winnipeg. She feels the same loneliness that she’d remembered seeing elders feel, when children are disinterested I learning about their traditional laws, governance and rights.
In 1977 during the construction of the Jenpeg Dam (1972-1979), an agreement was signed by the Northern Flood Committee Incorporated on behalf of the 5 bands, the 5 bands did not sign individually. Cross Lake Band was one of these 5 bands. In the 1990’s, each of the 5 communities was offered to sign a Comprehensive Implementation Agreement, which would essentially act as a new agreement in place of the NFA, removing the government’s obligations to uphold its promises originally agreed upon in the NFA. People in Cross Lake became worried about the implementation agreement and its lack of outlined self governance principles and jurisdiction over resource development on reserve lands. It soon became clear that Cross Lake was to be the only community who would refrain from signing an implementation agreement. This meant that the promises made by the government from the NFA are to be upheld for as long as the hydro development projects affecting Cross Lake are in existence.
Despite all that has happened, Rita has taken it upon herself to help people see how their world has been turned upside down. She was inspired to attend school, and began to use her voice to begin talking to people about what was happening in their communities up north. She continued to learn about how corporations are destroying their traditional way of life. With the land stripped and people forced away from their traditional medicines and activities, the urban migration of indigenous people has created a modern form of assimilation, forcing people to move to urban centres by providing services only to these areas for people to excel. Policies put in place continue to take away from these peoples. Rita returned to Pimicikamak, and is well known for being an activist in her community. Some may say she causes trouble; however, Rita says she just wants people to see how hydro is hurting her community. Rita is passing on a message from elders, and she won’t give up for her or her children. It’s not selfish, It’s for the environment and for the future. It is for her, and for her children. And for the better of everyone.
Know History Inc. (2016). Hydroelectric Development in Northern Manitoba. A History of the Development of the Churchill, Burntwood and Nelson Rivers, 1960 – 2015. Presented to the Clean Environment Commission.