Cree official criticizes hydroelectric power

Travis Reed

Every time University students turn on their lights, 10 percent of the energy ruins the lives of indigenous Canadian peoples, according to Cree Indian Nation officials.
Minneapolis-based Northern States Power fuels 10 percent of the Twin Cities’ energy needs with power piped over the Canadian border from Manitoba Hydro, a 14-station hydroelectric-power producer operating primarily in the Nelson River Drainage Basin of southern Canada.
From the first station constructed in 1928 to the latest in 1992, the Manitoba hydroelectric giant manipulated river-basin water levels to generate electricity.
The environmental effects have been severe, said Kenny Miswaggon, a Pimicikamak Cree Nation elected official. Miswaggon spoke Monday to a University panel on environmental racism at the Office of Special Learning Opportunity’s Human Rights week.
The plants have adversely affected the ecosystem of connecting rivers and disrupted the areas around them; in addition to decimating native animal and bird species, unnatural water fluctuations cause river-bank erosion and shoreline destruction, Miswaggon said.
Members of the Cree Nation, including Miswaggon, say their way of life has been ruined.
“Every day, people are deprived of their right to live, right to culture and right to livelihood,” Miswaggon said. “The aboriginal people and their land have been destroyed because of hydroelectric power.”
To date, the Crees say 3 million acres of their land has been destroyed by Manitoba Hydro. They also suffer from high suicide rates, including 110 attempts — 2.4 percent of the population — since Jan. 1 of this year.
Miswaggon showed before-and-after photographs of Cree land. The pictures depicted barren basins, uprooted trees and headwaters inaccessible to local fauna.
The Cree Nation receives no compensation for this use of its land. Canadian law did not require an Environmental Impact Statement, and Cree officials say they were lied to about the plant’s environmental impacts.
The area has been labeled an “environmental-sacrifice zone” by the activist group Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy. Furthermore, the United Nations has condemned Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples.
Ninety percent of Manitoba Hydro’s exported electricity goes to NSP, making it Manitoba Hydro’s biggest customer.
And people of the Cree Nation are concerned things are about to get worse.
This summer, NSP announced the need for an additional 1,200 megawatts of electricity by 2005. Ann Stewart, a panelist and U.S. information officer for the Cree Nation, said Manitoba Hydro is a leading candidate to supply the additional power. If chosen, Manitoba would have to double the electricity it currently provides NSP.
But Stewart is looking to consumers to use their voice to stop the deal. And she said Monday that University students can make the difference.
In the early 1990s, the Hydro Quebec’s expansion was thwarted in large part by East Coast students who organized protest movements and caused a few key universities to divest company stock.
Stewart said those students used the power of their universities to make social changes. She said University students could do the same.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.