By Mathew Scammell
Manitoba (MB) Hydro is once again straining its relationships with Indigenous communities. This time it is with the people of Misipawistik Cree Nation and Grand Rapids, who have had to live with the consequences of hydro development ever since the construction of the Grand Rapids Generating Station and its completion in 1968. This mega dam has had environmental, social, and economic impacts that spanning generations. One might think that the crown corporation would be doing everything in its power to heal the wounds it inflicted on the community historically and moreover to make attempts to remedy the effects of those wounds being felt today. One would hope, anyways.
Back in the summer of 2019, I wrote my first blog post about how community members of Grand Rapids and Misipawistik Cree Nation were protesting the planned de-staffing, or ‘automation’, of the dam. This move by MB Hydro would see the dam unmonitored for almost 14 hours every single day – rightfully raising concerns amongst the residents living directly downstream. Due to the protest, MB Hydro recognized they didn’t have the assumed permission of the people to move forward with their plans. They organized several ‘consultation’ sessions over the following months. I was at one of these so-called ‘consultation’ sessions and can say with confidence that it was not meaningful. Neither was it intended to do anything except fulfill the most basic legal requirement when it comes to negotiations between governments and Indigenous communities.
On February 13, 2020, MB Hydro went ahead and de-staffed the generating station, without permission from the community. It makes you wonder what their thought process is when they do this during the coldest months of the year – it is most likely that they wanted to avoid another protest. Even though virtually every single speaker at the public meeting in the summer made it very clear that they opposed this decision to automate, the crown corporation went ahead anyways. They did this after meeting again in private with the elected officials from the community. During these private meetings, there was no agreement signed by the community leadership to allow MB Hydro to move ahead with a decision that is opposed by basically the entire community.
Governments and companies in Canada seem to consistently have issues when it comes to consulting Indigenous communities regarding resource projects on their traditional territories. Companies wanting a quick and concise answer from a community about a project proposal (or a planned change in operations) is understandable from a profit-seeking perspective. However, it is not in the spirit of reconciliation to try and expedite this process. With historical tragedies and systemic discrimination in mind, great efforts need to be taken by the federal and provincial governments to make up for the generations of broken promises and documented wrongdoings. These efforts need to include real consultation with not just the leadership of Indigenous communities, but the people themselves. Divide and conquer should no longer be the strategy of industry and government.
Community opposition to the removal of staff from the dam has not stopped. Despite this, invitations for the MB Hydro CEO to personally attend a community meeting have still not been acknowledged or reciprocated. Perhaps the executives are hoping the people of Misipawistik and Grand Rapids will forget or move on from this issue. It is evident that the Grand Rapids Generating Station and the decisions surrounding it will forever remain in the minds of those residents that live just downstream.
Keep your eyes and ears open for future events of resistance.