Presented by Ann Stewart in Wisconsin on the weekend of 1-29-00
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
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
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
In addition, the destruction of northern Manitoba1s migratory staging and
breeding grounds has impacts for bird populations that are important to
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
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.