On December 4th and 5th, 2014, the first meeting of what would later become Wa Ni Ska Tan: An Alliance of Hydro Impacted Communities took place at the Friendship Centre in Thompson, Manitoba. The meeting was attended by 62 people, including representatives from 13 Cree and Anishinaabe First Nations, five NGOS, and 11 researchers. Importantly, the meeting represented the first opportunity for many of these communities to share their experiences as well as to identify ways of grieving these losses and to move forward. This first meeting would also inform a SSHRC Letter of Intent by identifying research priorities and activities important to hydro-impacted communities.
Four primary pillars of research activity were identified: i) documentation of impacts and responses; ii) education especially for community youth; iii) support and advocacy for Partner communities; and iv) outreach among Alliance Members and with other Indigenous communities and stakeholders including NGOs, governments, and the wider public. All these activities were seen as occurring along three major dimensions: environment, social and cultural wellbeing, and food. It was also agreed that all research would be culturally appropriate, accountable to communities, and reflect OCAP principles.
Nine preliminary research themes emerged from the small-group discussions at the Gathering, although these would be explored further and finalized during a second (proposal writing) Gathering, planned for May 2015 in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, which neighbours The Pas, Manitoba.
The nine themes that emerged include:
i) project-level and cumulative impacts of hydropower on the environment and social and cultural wellbeing of nearby Indigenous communities;
ii) history, gaps in, and implications of decision-making by governments and hydro corporations, and how and to what degree these have evolved and with what implications;
iii) economic and environmental implications of past and anticipated compensation, adverse effects agreements, and mitigation;
iv) past community-level and collective responses that have helped reduce the impacts of these changes including gardening, country food programs, and other community-scale industries;
v) innovative programming and action projects that might support community capacity and interest around food sovereignty, environmental monitoring, alternative energy, community economic development, and social enterprise in the future;
vi) the interface among hydro development, Aboriginal and Treaty rights and Indigenous legal traditions;
vii) comparison between such impacts and responses in Manitoba and those occurring with hydro and other industrial development projects elsewhere across Canada and within a wider perspective on worldwide energy supply and demand;
viii) outreach with and support for Partner communities and also between Alliance Partners and outside stakeholders using workshops, new social media and the Internet, participatory video, and film documentaries; and
ix) evolution of the Research Alliance itself and factors that underlie any such changes.
Many more details were discussed and new partnerships were made at this Gathering. It was a success in providing a way forward to apply for the SSHRC PG Letter of Intent. The 2015 Gathering in OCN will help to build upon the relationships formed in Thompson and finalize the details of many of the activities and priorities discussed at this initial meeting of the Alliance.