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Pimicikamak Cree US campaign is "Indian Power"
News from Indian Country, Hayward WI, mid-February 2000, p14A

A little under two years ago, Cree elders living on the impoverished reserve of Cross Lake, Manitoba - at the epicenter of an environmental sacrifice zone - decided it was time to tell their story to the American customers of Manitoba Hydro.

"We've chosen to become the environmental and human rigths conscience that the governments of Manitoba and Canada do not have," says Councillor Nelson Miller.

Another councillor, Kenny Miswagon, who has traveled several times to Minneapolis and St. Paul to talk to American audiences, adds, "We are the spokespeople for the Nelson River drainage area."

Since the late 1960s, Pimicikamak Cree Nation watched in anguish as the government of Manitoba and its state-owned utlity, Manitoba Hydro, began to divert and dam the rivers in northern Manitoba, and flooded milllions of acres of fragile boreal forests.

Today, when the demand for electricity is high in Minnesota, Manitoba Hydro turns the Nelson River on, no matter what time of day or season, to generate electricity from its fast-flowing water. It exports 40 percent of the output to the United States; Northern States Power (NSP), headquartered in Minneapolis purchases 90 percent of that output.

Last summer, NSP announced it needed an additional 1,200 megawatts of electricity to meet Minnesota's growing demand. It is in negotiations with Manitoba Hydro; a new contract may be signed as early as April 2000.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Power and Public Service Corporation of Wisconsin have announced plans to construct a 260-mile, 345 kilovolt transmission line to ship Manitoba hydroelectricity through the two states to meet some of Wisconsin's demand, but also to sell to Chicago.

One of the proposed transmission routes would cross Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe land in northwest Wisconsin. LCO's tribal council passed a resolution in September 1999, opposing the powerline. LCO was the first tribe in the United States to officially declare support for the Pimicikamak Crees. Sixty years ago, NSP built a dam and reservoir on the LCO reservation, and tribal members say they are still recovering from the cultural and psychological displacement.

"Indian power is human rights," says Ann Stewart, an information officer hired by the Pimicikamak Crees to help them tell their story. "It's the power of a people who insist that the development of an equitable energy policy in the Midwest must include the recognition that at one end of the transmission line there are people and an environment who continue to suffer because of American demand."

The Wolf Watershed Educational Project, a coalition of Wisconsin Native Americans, fishermen, farmers and environmentalists who are fighting to save the Wolf River from a sulfide mining operation, agrees.

Their resolution passed at Menominee Nation, Keshena, on January 15, states, " every step of the way, from the hydroelectric dams, to the transmission line, to the Crandon mine - this power project has demonstrated disregard for the rights of land-based peoples, including farmers and indigenous peoples, to continue living on and gaining sustenance form their local environment."

The Voigt Intertribal Task Force of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, unanimously passed a resolution February 3 opposing "the transmission line and the reasons that underlie it."

Michael Isham, LCO Vice-Chairman, and Wayne LeBrun, Sokaogon Chippewa of Mole Lake, spoke of the irony of Manitoba Hydro destroying the Pimicikamak Cree homeland to ship electricity to the proposed Crandon mine (owned by a Canadian subsidiary) that would in turn, destroy Wisconsin's Wolf River watershed and forever alter the Mole Lake community.

At the request of concerned Minnesotans, in the first week of February a bill was introduced in the Minnesota Senate to require that all out-of-state hydroelectric facilities meet the same environmental reporting requirements as in-state facilities. The hydro review bill (Senate File #2453) was introduced by State Senators Ellen Anderson, Jane Krentz and John Marty.

Minnesotans can express support of the bill by telling friends, conservation organizations, tribal governments and faith communities about the hydro review bill and ask them to express support to:

Senator Ellen Anderson (DFL/St. Paul) at 651-296-5537;

Activists are now gearing up for a public hearing in Duluth in early March, followed by summer hearings on the line's proposed route in Wisconsin. And Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission is receiving letters and email from Minnesota ratepayers who oppose new contracts with Manitoba Hydro.

accompanied by photo, captioned: Sandy Beardy, 79-year-old Pimicikamak Cree elder, no longer wears the medals of honor Canada awarded him for his service in WWII, because of the damage Manitoba Hydro has done to his people.