[From "The Circle" a Minneapolis
newspaper which covers Native American issues Jan. 2000]
The Pimicikamak Cree of Cross Lake, Manitoba, are facing a problem which is
livelihood and saturating all facets of their lives. That problem is the
Manitoba Hydro, and every Minnesotan has a stake.
Manitoba Hydro is not exactly a new story for the Cree. Manitoba Hydro is a
corporation with dams in northern Manitoba for the past thirty years. Five
of the twelve
dams are on the Nelson river, which runs through Cross Lake on its way to
Hudson Bay. The
dams supply more power than necessary for Manitoba, which has one quarter
needs of a state like Minnesota. So the excess power is exported to places
with a power
deficit or those in need of federally-mandated "green" energy. Through
Power (NSP), Minnesotans are among those powered by Manitoba Hydro.
Although Hydro officials originally promised the Crees minimal water level
the Nelson river, the effects have been significant: eight to ten foot water
both above and below normal. Add to this the consequential flooding of an
area three times
the size of the Boundary Waters, and you get what tribal councilor Kenny
an "environmental slum." According to Miswaggon, that land is now unusable,
decaying biomass and devoid of animal life.
High water levels have also entered previously undisturbed soil, contaminating
the river with the toxin methylmercury. Fish from the Nelson river, a staple
of the Cree, have
been contaminated. Pregnant women, elders and children must severely limit
their intake or
risk dire health consequences.
Miswaggon, the youngest of Cross Lake?s councilors, has spent much of the
traveling around Minnesota trying to educate communities on the source of
At a summit on environmental racism in December, his presentation on behalf
of the Cree
was the main event. Miswaggon likened the plight of the Cree to what is
aboriginal people all over Canada.
"It is not very pleasant to live out there as an aboriginal," he said,
choosing his words
carefully. "Canada used to have the reputation of being one of the nicest
places to live in,
but if you ask any aboriginal person, it is not so." Miswaggon added, "[We]
are right in the
middle of that environmental slum Manitoba Hydro has created."
Environmental concerns aside, the constantly fluctuating river levels
provide another danger
to Cross Lakers. The river is dangerous in winter because it is kept at an
making the ice thin in places once considered safe. Even in summer the river
is a threat.
There has been at least one boating death that many directly attribute to a
low water level
and the ever changing landscape beneath its surface.
In addition to the environmental destruction, Cross Lakers face an
estimated at 85 to 90 percent.
These factors, many believe, have led to the recent suicide epidemic in
Cross Lake -
unmatched anywhere in Canada. In a community of 4,000, more than 100
suicide in the second half of 1999 alone. One week before the environmental
another young woman in Cross Lake took her life.
Manitoba Hydro announced they are at fifty percent of capacity and would
like to increase
their output, selling more power to Minnesota and Wisconsin. To the Cree,
unacceptable. Miswaggon said that greater manipulation of the water in the
would bring greater environmental hardship to the Cross Lake community.
"If you're gonna double the exports, that means you're gonna double the
Ann Stewart, information officer for the Cross Lake, says Minnesota citizens
are a crucial
link in alleviating the suffering up north. She suggests letting NSP
officials and lawmakers
know that Minnesotans will not stand for energy that comes at such a price.
"We have to become the moral voice of conscience. We have to bang on their
doors and let
them know there are alternatives." Stewart added, "I want my electricity
More importantly, she adds, there are certain unique avenues available to
Minnesotans in the
coming months. NSP uses hydro power to fulfill a ten percent deficit in
they named seven companies on a bid list to fill that deficit, one of which
Hydro. The list also includes a company using wind power, a form of energy
favored by environmentalists. By some estimates, wind power in the midwest
development could provide three-quarters of U.S. energy needs. NSP is
expected to sign its
new contract by mid-April, giving energy consumers a window of opportunity
to voice their
Write to: Jim Howard, President and CEO, Northern States Power Company, 414
Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401.
For more information: Ann Stewart, US Information Officer, Pimicikamak Cree
firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-871-8404. Related web site: