Crees: Power line comes with human toll
Canada tribe says dam construction has destroyed their way of life
By Nikki Kallio, Wausau Daily Herald, 16 April 2000, p3
MINNEAPOLIS - Part of John Miswagon's duty as chief of the Cross Lake Cree
Nation is to identify the bodies of community members who have killed
Last year seven of the northern Manitoba nation's 5,500 people committed
suicide, and 147 more attempted it. The community has a 92 percent
unemployment rate, and hunting and fishing is gone.
All of this has happened since Manitoba Hydro built dams on the Nelson River
in 1975, destroying the Pimicikamak Cree traditional way of life and causing
a general feeling of hopelessness, Miswagon said.
Some of the power from a proposed 345-kilovolt power line from Duluth to
Rothschild could come from Manitoba Hydro projects, utility officials have
said. Power also would come from coal-fired plants in the Dakotas.
Wisconsin Public Service and Minnesota Power are proposing the 250-mile line
because they say there's a dire need to increase electrical reliability in
Miswagon, other indigenous people and activists discussed the effects of
energy development during Saturday's Environmental Justice and Energy Policy
in the Upper Midwest conference at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis.
Organizer and professor Steve Hoffman said people often aren't aware of the
far-reaching impacts of development.
"Most people don't want to damage other people, and if they had a choice
they would say, 'oh, I don't want to do this'," Hoffman said. "But the fact
is people don't think of the impacts.'
About 200 people from Midwest states attended, including members of Save Our
Unique Lands, or SOUL, a power-line protest group, which has members in
Roger Steffen, the Hawkins-based secretary of Save Our Unique Lands, said
people should talk to legislators, petition and write to the Public Service
Commission to help make a difference for the Cree nation.
"It already might be having some effect," he said.
Steffen said Minnesota Power officials originally said about 40 percent of
power going through the proposed line would be from Manitoba Hydro, but
later said little or no power would come from there.
Information from Manitoba Hydro said about 10 percent of Northern States
Power electricity comes from their utility. The Minneapolis-based company's
power coverage includes western Wisconsin.
Miswagon said if the power line is built, the Cree in northern Manitoba will
experience more devastation because water levels will continue to fluctuate,
eroding shorelines and killing wildlife.
Two years after the hydroelectric dams were implemented, Manitoba Hydro and
five Cree nations, including Cross Lake, signed the Northern Flood
Agreement, which was to provide the nations with some compensation. The
Cross Lake Cree are just now receiving some benefits of the 25-year-old
agreement, and only after it sued the utility, he said.
A March 6 letter to American electric customers from Bob Brennan, Manitoba
Hydro president and chief executive officer, said the utility is aware of
problems it has caused and has spent more than $396 million to mitigate
damage in northern Manitoba.
"Our disagreement with (the Cross Lake) community is an anomaly," Brennan
wrote. "We have successful, working implementation agreements with four of
the five First Nations who are part of the Northern Flood Agreement."
But Miswagon said nothing short of restoring the natural environment will
help the Cree. Miswagon, who is 35, remembers a much different childhood
than kids born after 1975 in Cross Lake.
"My children will never have the pleasure of seeing what things were like in
the old days," he said.
Copyright 1999 Wausau Daily Herald