The Northern Community of South Indian Lake Launches Major Legal Acton Against Manitoba Hydro

For Immediate Release 

Afer enduring nearly 50 years of harm arising from a massive hydropower project constructed against their wishes, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Naton (OPCN), along with two related community associatons, filed a statement of claim in Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on May 19, 2023.

The statement of claim seeks:

1) compensation for damages from impacts of the Churchill River Diversion project that foods 837 square kilometres and raises the level of Southern Indian Lake, the fourth largest lake in the province and the heart of OPCN, by about 3 metres;

2) an order that Manitoba Hydro restore the ecological integrity of Southern Indian Lake, which was home to a highly successful commercial fishing sector that served as the economic anchor of the community; and

3) injunctions restraining Manitoba Hydro from operating the Diversion in a way that interferes with the use and enjoyment of lands and Treaty rights.

The court acton is being brought jointly by O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Naton, the Community Associaton of South Indian Lake (CASIL) and the South Indian Lake Fisherman’s Associaton (SILFA). All three are centered in South Indian Lake, a community of 1,120 people, located 130 km northwest of Thompson.

“How can we teach our children our traditonal practces when our lands and waters are being destroyed?” asked OPCN Chief Shirley Ducharme. “We need to protect Southern Indian Lake for the future of our people.”

Steve Ducharme, a lifelong fsher, and current President of SILFA, said that, “the Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro have succeeded in doing what the Federal government and the churches have not been able to do in the last 500 years, and that is the cultural, social and economic genocide of a people.

The Project

Manitoba Hydro’s Churchill River Diversion Project, (the Project), completed in 1976, redirects about 85 percent of the fow of the Churchill River—the second largest river in the province—southward toward mega-dams on the Nelson River. It does this by fooding Southern Indian Lake, which then spills southward through a man-made channel that fows into a neighbouring watershed.

The Project resulted in the forced relocaton of the entre community of South Indian Lake and the imposed burning of the previous setlement. Beaches have been obliterated. Dozens upon dozens of islands have fooded or eroded of the map. The fishery—which made the community a beacon of northern self-reliance and stability for decades—has collapsed.

The province granted Manitoba Hydro an interim licence for the Project in 1973. In 1986, the government granted Hydro’s request to “deviate” from the licence, raising the lake further and increasing the allowable annual lake level fuctuatons. This became an annual deviaton, called the Augmented Flow Program. It came with the conditon that Manitoba Hydro “fully mitgate any efects of the altered levels and fows,” though this conditon was largely ignored.

In 2021, the province issued a long-overdue Final Licence for the Project, against the wishes of OPCN, CASIL and SILFA. The Final Licence allows Manitoba Hydro to contnue its harmful operatons, including the deviatons, while removing the requirement to mitgate efects. For the community of South Indian Lake, this is a licence to destroy.

“I have lived every second of my life under the oppression of Manitoba Hydro,” said Leslie Dysart, CEO of CASIL. “No longer will we allow the sacrifce of our environment, economy, community and children. Meaningful change is needed.”

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Contacts 

Leslie Dysart CEO, Community Association of South Indian Lake, 204-679-2517 (cell) or 204-374-2270, casil01@mymts.net

Chief Shirley Ducharme O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Naton 204-679-4454 shirley.opcn@outlook.com

Steve Ducharme President, South Indian Lake Fisherman’s Associaton Inc. 431-754-7473 petowski1@gmail.com

Dr. Bruce McIvor, Partner, First Peoples Law LLP, 604-785-0327

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