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U.S. listens to band's grievances with Hydro Sierra Club, native groups go to bat for Manitoba first nation
Tracy Tjaden, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 April 2000, pA1

Cross Lake natives have taken their long-standing battle against Manitoba Hydro south of the border in search of an audience that will listen.

The northern community now known as Pimickamack First Nation, located 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has resisted signing an agreement to replace the Northern Flood Agreement, a treaty struck to compensate native communities for the impact of hydro development on hunting and fishing lands.

Councillor Nelson Miller said the band will stand firm on its pledge to force Manitoba Hydro to live up to the original agreement, and he's hoping noisy allies in the States will help.

'Misery'

"We had to find someone who would listen," Miller said. "What we have at the north end of the power line is a lot of misery, and what they have at the south end is billions in profits for Manitoba Hydro and cheap electricity for the States."

The NFA was signed in 1977 with five northern first nations to compensate for flooding caused by diverting the Churchill River into the Nelson River to provide electricity to the south. Pimickamack is the only first nation among the five to pursue its claims.

The Sierra Club and some American native groups have come on side, peppering their Web sites with warnings to U.S. citizens on the troubled history between Manitoba Hydro and northern Cree communities.

The groups want to block Manitoba Hydro sales to the U.S., raise public awareness of the issue and stall a proposed power line running from Minnesota to Wisconsin.

"The 12,000 Cree living in the affected area have seen their burial grounds and hunting areas destroyed by the flooding. They also have experienced increased unemployment, alarmingly high suicide rates and other less measurable but equally devastating impacts on the Cree community and culture," a Sierra Club Web site reads.

"If Minnesota Power gets approval to build its power line, more damage will be done to the environment and to the Cree people."

Ann Stewart, Cross Lake's Minneapolis-based U.S. information officer, said it's time American hydro customers found out where their cheap Canadian power is coming from.

"You can't stay home forever," Stewart said from Minneapolis. "If you're not getting listened to at home you have to go out to the consumer."

Manitoba Hydro spokeswoman Anita Mitchell said the campaign hasn't made a dent in Manitoba's power exports to the States.

"I have not heard of any transaction between Manitoba and Minnesota being effected," added John Heino, a spokesman for Minnesota Power.

Heino said he is aware of Cross Lake's concerns, but said other native communities in the area, such as Split Lake, want to work with Manitoba Hydro to encourage development.

"We know there are differences of opinion and these are things we think should be dealt with in Manitoba," Heino said from Duluth.

An official from Split Lake First Nation could not be reached for comment.

Heino said it doesn't make sense for Cross Lake to target the proposed power line from Minnesota to Wisconsin.

"It's our weak link and could be the catalyst for a regional blackout," Heino said. "Any wholesale power seller or buyer can use this line. Manitoba Hydro is only one of many."

The line will provide a more reliable transmission and is not being proposed to import more power from Manitoba, he said.

But Stewart said the campaign is making a difference. The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board has agreed to consider giving Cross Lake intervenor status in upcoming public hearings on the new power line. A decision is expected April 20.

An arbitrator appointed under the NFA ordered Manitoba Hydro earlier this year to pay $9.1 million to Pimickamack First Nation -- a small portion of what the band had been seeking under the NFA. The $9.1 million would generate an annual income of $315,000, and was to be spent on keeping the community's arena open each year. Hydro was to provide free electricity under the order.