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Presented by Ann Stewart in Wisconsin on the weekend of 1-29-00
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Transmission Line Panel Discussion
Presentation by Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Cross Lake, Manitoba

Fifth Annual Conference (28-29 January 2000)
Wisconsin Stewardship Network
Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Thank you for inviting me to speak on behalf of Pimicikamak Cree Nation of Cross Lake in northern Manitoba.

The Pimicikamak Crees are a water and forest people who have lived in their traditional lands in northern Manitoba since time immemorial. These traditional lands are the sub-Arctic boreal forests, lakes and rivers southwest of Hudson1s Bay.

Pimicikamak Cree elders tell their children and grandchildren that the Crees were placed in Nitaskinan -- "Our Land" -- to govern it, to benefit from its bounty of plants, fish, animals and birds, and to protect it from waste and destruction. 

Since the late 1960's, the Crees have watched in anguish as the government of Manitoba and its state-owned utility, Manitoba Hydro, began to divert and dam the rivers in northern Manitoba, and flooded millions of acres of uplands and forests.

The Churchill River, which once flowed north and emptied into Hudson1s Bay, now flows south and into a man-made channel which diverts it into the Nelson River. It thus increases the flow in the Nelson River -- where Manitoba Hydro has built five generating stations. At the southern end of the system, one of Canada's largest lakes, Lake Winnipeg, is used as a reservoir into which water is trapped through spring, summer and fall. Then when the demand for electricity is high in the winter in Winnipeg and Minneapolis, the water is released into the Nelson.

In other words, now Manitoba Hydro and its American utility customers have gained the ability to turn the Nelson River on and off, no matter the time of day or season.

The ongoing shoreline erosion and riverbank slumping, downstream island erosion and lakeshores heaped with dead timber are all visible from the air, as far as the eye can see. The leader of one of Minnesota's prominent environmental organizations called it an 3environmental sacrifice zone2 when he flew over it last  October.

This environmental sacrifice zone lies at the very heart of the Nelson River drainage basin, an area that reaches as far west as the Rockies, and encompasses portions of Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota. The Red River and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area lie within this drainage area.

The boreal  forests in this drainage provide critical staging and feeding grounds for neotropical migrants which use the Mississippi Flyway. Unfortunately, because Manitoba Hydro never undertook comprehensive environmental  assessments -- or, for that matter, social assessments -- no one knows how  many species of animals, aquatic mammals, fish and flora and their habitats have disappeared or been severely affected. The Crees have observed that some animals have adapted. For example, there are some multi-level lodges constructed by beavers to accommodate the dramatic and frequent water fluctuations. However, every fall, the resident muskrat populations build winter dens, only to drown when the sudden, unseasonal water-level fluctuations flood them out.

And just as the animals have tried to adapt, so have the Pimicikamak Crees. However, it is difficult to adapt to the destruction of an entire environment when one lives at the epicenter of a sacrifice zone. Transport routes, traplines, food sources, traditional medicines, the Crees1 universities of the wild - it is as though the area was suddenly bombed and destroyed. Where until the 1960's the Crees were self-sufficient and earned a good living from the waters and the land, now there is 85% unemployment and dependence on government handouts. In the last year, over 140 people attempted suicide, and seven died. Since the hydroproject began, dozens of Crees have perished because the land is now hazardous; hunters and fishermen sometimes have drowned when their outboard motors hit submerged debris or because of unstable ice covered with layers of slush; children diving into the water on hot summer days have been injured by underwater debris.

When the fragile vegetation and soils are flooded, the resulting shallow reservoirs emit the pernicious greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, that are major contributors to global warming. A 1999 study suggests such emissions may equal or exceed the emissions produced by thermal generation. Northern  flooding also causes inert mercury stored in the soils and rock of the Canadian Shield to become methylated through a bacterial action. This poison  works its way into the food chain, contaminating fish and aquatic mammals and ultimately, people.

The electricity that Manitoba Hydro and its American trading partners want to ship on the line being discussed tonight is not clean, self-renewing energy. Mega-hydroelectric projects like the Lake Winnipeg Regulation and Churchill River Diversion Project are not sustainable. The manipulation of water flowage in Pimicikamak Cree territory that replaced a thriving, multi-use environment with single-use electricity production, would be probably not be built in today's sophisticated world, and in an industry which is rapidly undergoing restructuring.

Yet Manitoba Hydro counts on its American  partners to downplay the ecological and social consequences, which are, after all, far out of your sight and mind. You are told that this powerline is needed because of reliability. Is it more reliable to depend upon a vast, remote power plant whose invisible byproducts are the continuance of social and ecological devastation that would be totally unacceptable in Wisconsin? Wouldn't it be more reliable to manage your electricity demand to reduce the pressure on the Crees and their environment?

Pimicikamak Cree Nation believes that the Nelson River basin's remaining boreal forests are just as important to the health of this hemisphere as the rainforests of the Amazon, for both are important carbon sinks. Actually, the boreal forest is a larger ecosystem and carbon sink than the Amazon. This is, in part, why Pimicikamak Cree Nation has chosen to become the spokespeople for the Nelson River drainage basin. This is why they have become the environmental and human rights conscience that the governments of Manitoba and Canada do not have.

It is important that you become aware of the environmental and human rights impacts in Manitoba of the generation of electric power on Cree traditional lands. But there is a more important reason for my presence here as a member of this panel. There are significant impacts for the Midwest that will result from any decision to build transmission lines to carry large quantities of power from Manitoba.

When you buy energy from somewhere else, it is an alternative to generating that power at home. When you generate it at home, you employ American workers and use American materials to build, operate and maintain.  Manitoba electricity may be a penny or so cheaper per kilowatt-hour than locally generated power. But it is important to consider that simply buying power at the border creates no jobs in Wisconsin, no economic spinoffs, no local benefits for your technology sector, your workforce, your communities.

If local wind farms produce power at a penny or two more per kilowatt-hour, this power is not more expensive than hydropower, it is cheaper!  This is because that extra money gets spent here. Economists call this an economic multiplier.

In addition, locally produced electricity can be sited close to the demand. This can reduce the need to build huge networks of high-capacity transmission lines across Wisconsin1s wild lands, farmlands and residential areas.

In addition, the destruction of northern Manitoba1s migratory staging and breeding grounds has impacts for bird populations that are important to Wisconsin.

In addition, last April, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the highest human rights complaints entity of the U.N., issued a judgment concerning Canada1s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

The UN Committee condemned Canada for its treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, referring in particular to violations of the right not to be deprived of one1s means of subsistence. I bring this to your attention, because by remaining un-informed about the real purposes and human rights impacts of this powerline, your rights as Wisconsin citizens are affected.

Thank you.