By Mathew Scammell,  Research Facilitator

Here at Wa Ni Ska Tan, our work has definitely been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have done our best to remain engaged and committed to working alongside community and research partners despite the recent changes. University policies have prohibited most of us from having access to our normal workspace on campus, the Environmental Conservation Lab, but we have shifted to working from home instead as a way to continue furthering our goals of attaining social and environmental justice with regards to hydro development in Manitoba. Even though we can’t travel to northern communities, we’ve adapted by using online platforms to host virtual meetings and when internet access is an issue, we’ve relied on the telephone to connect.

Here are some general updates on the research priorities that we’ve been moving forward:

Gendered Trauma and Impacts
It has been identified that Manitoba-specific research on the gendered impacts of extractive industries, particularly hydroelectric dams, is crucially underdeveloped. Many things are not known about the extent of the impacts that Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ+ community members have faced from large-scale hydroelectric development in Northern Manitoba. Even though there have been some high profile news stories of these impacts in recent years, based on findings from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in 2019, testimony included in the Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment (RCEA) in 2018, and reports from Amnesty International, many unknowns still exist here in Manitoba. Research and outreach is currently underway to develop a comprehensive literature review and outreach form an advisory committee.

Community Comparisons
What are the differences between First Nation communities that have or have not been impacted by hydro development in Manitoba? We hope to find out using a combination of surveys, interviews, and existing statistical data. This committee will be looking at environmental, social, cultural, and economic factors, and an advisory committee will help inform this project’s direction and outcome. Combining both qualitative and quantitative information, this study will build upon previous research done regarding impacts of hydro development on communities and assess the significance of these impacts.

Energy Alternatives
If large-scale hydroelectric dams are being developed in Northern Manitoba and causing widespread impacts, particularly to nearby communities and environments, then what are the alternatives? This project is looking at examples of existing alternative energy projects in First Nation communities, not only in Manitoba but also across Canada, to get a better idea of what might be possible in terms of energy production – but without the mega dams. There are more examples than you might think, and one goal of this project is to compile what has been accomplished, and where. To complement this research, pilot projects in two different communities are being pursued – setting up solar installations on remote, off-grid cabins that are frequently used as camps and gathering spaces by community members. These installations are meant to introduce easy-to-use alternative energy sources in places that typically only have diesel or hydropower as sources of energy. The hope is that the installations spark curiosity and conversations about using alternative energy sources. This project is a collaboration between Wa Ni Ska Tan and the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance (NAMRA).

Licencing is a big deal for Manitoba Hydro, since they need to sign licencing agreements with the communities around which they are building hydro dams. Some of these historical agreements have not been honoured, and some have been replaced with more recent amendments that change the terms and conditions, causing severe impacts to nearby communities. The Augmented Flow Program, which affects water levels in South Indian Lake is an example. More legal research is needed on the ramifications of these licencing agreements. To that end, Wa Ni Ska Tan has partnered with Jerch Law and the Interchurch Council on Hydropower to move this research forward.

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