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[Background: The Circle, a monthly publication which covers Native American issues, published an article by reporter Eli Johnson about Cross Lake in its January 2000 issue. Below is Manitoba Hydro's response which was printed in February, followed by two letters in the March issue now on the stands.

[February 2000]

A good neighbor

A recent article in The Circle implied that Minnesotans were enjoying electricity generated in Canada at the expense of the environment and the Cross Lake First Nation. Unfortunately your readers did not get an accurate or complete story.

Manitoba Hydro projects, built more than 20 years ago, had an impact on the environment and the communities adjacent to some northern Manitoba waterways. But that impact does not approach the levels described in the story. Furthermore we have taken significant action to address adverse environmental impacts and compensate the neighboring communities. We continue to work with the Cross Lake Cree to implement the Northern Flood Agreement, which provides, among other things, compensation to the First Nations. Our disagreement with that community is an anomaly. We have successful working implementation agreements with four of the five First Nations who are part of the Northern Flood Agreement.

Several years ago we were close to signing an implementation agreement with the previous leadership from the Cross Lake First Nation worth nearly $110 million. However, new leadership decided to reject the agreement because it didn't solve the community's pre-existing and unfortunate social problems, such as unemployment and poverty. Solving those long-standing issues is beyond our ability and beyond the scope of the Northern Flood Agreement. We've also developed and funded natural resources programs that help the Cross Lake Cree continue with their traditions of hunting and fishing.

Methyl mercury was never an issue at Cross Lake; residents have never been advised to control or limit their consumption of fish for this reason.

Despite our differences, we remain committed to negotiating with the Cross Lake First Nation in an attempt to find a solution. For more information please call our offices at 204-474-3535 (collect) or visit our Web site at .

Yours truly,
Glenn P. Schneider
Manager, Public Affairs, Manitoba Hydro

[March 2000]

Manitoba Hydro project called a "moral and ecological catastrophe"

Glenn Schneider, manager of Public Affairs for Manitoba Hydro, misses the point in a letter to the editor in February's Circle.
Manitoba Hydro, a fully state-owned utility, sells electricity to Minnesotans from a hydroelectric project it constructed 20-odd years ago in a fragile sub-Arctic environment. The cheap electricity it sells to Minnesotans comes at a very high cost: the ecological damage to a North American boreal forest and river system; the economic, social and psychological damage to Cree Indians whose hunting and fishing way of life and cultural landmarks have been destroyed by flooding; and the undercutting of Minnesota's innovative environmentalists who have worked for years to convince their utilities, legislators and public utilities commissioners that it's better and cheaper in the long run, to invest in efficiency, wind power, solar power and gas-fired cogeneration in the Midwest.

The self-serving protestations by Manitoba Hydro that it is a "good neighbor," that it is improving/conserving the environment, and that it is benefiting/protecting the rights of Manitoba's indigenous peoples by paying sums of compensation simply do not ring true. More credible is the 1999 finding by a church-sponsored Canadian inquiry that Manitoba Hydro's project is a "moral and ecological catastrophe." Sadly, this catastrophe is one in which all Minnesotans have been made complicit.

Ann Stewart
US Information Officer, Minneapolis
Pimicikamak Cree Nation

Minnesotans complicit in destruction of Cree lands

I would like to thank Eli Johnson for persuasively exposing me to the crucial issues of hydropower and the environmental and social costs of NSP's power purchases form Manitoba Hydro ("Trail of NSP's hydro power leads to destruction in Cree country" Jan. 2000). Clearly, nature has bestowed what has historically been Cree land with an enormous hydrological energy potential in northern Manitoba. Needless to say, in a spiritual as well as material sense, this Indian land, which includes its rivers, was always a form of Native wealth. Ironically, this wealth has recently generated the Crees' social and spiritual poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others. And these "open veins" -- to use Eduardo Galeano's metaphor -- link me and every other Minnesotan to not only the destruction of Cree lands, but also to the alcoholism, domestic violence and suicides that Native elders attribute to this destruction. Perhaps it's arguable, moreover, that Minnesotans are complicit in yet another holocaust, for, in substance, it seems like the Corss Lake Crees have been assigned the status of "expendable."

When confronted with the history of North American Indian policy, many of us European-Americans submit this retort: "I refuse to take responsibility for the sins of my ancestors. I have never harmed any Indians, and I will only take responsibility for those things that I can control." Fair enough.

What is happening to the Pimicikamak Crees, however, is happening now -- not in 1492, 1862 or 1890. Therefore, as a non-Indian, this time I cannot blame my ancestors. If I sit idly by while the Cross Lake Crees struggle to fight off greater manipulation of the Nelson Rriver, if I let it happen this time, the blood is on my hands. And the hands of every other Minnesotan who chooses to look the other way.

Kevin Sands O'Brien
(Irish/German/English American)
Minneapolis