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Water Projects Must Have Indigenous Communities At The Table

Unfortunately, little oversight was given to how water-related projects affected Northern Indigenous communities here in Manitoba for decades. It’s only relatively recently that Manitoba Hydro and the Province of Manitoba have started consultations with Indigenous and First Nations peoples, but much of the damage done to the land is irreversible.

As we continue to see the effects of human-caused climate change, the increase of global temperatures, climate events, pollution, acidification of the oceans, and loss of biodiversity and wild areas, individuals are tirelessly fighting to keep corporations and governments accountable. One such organization is the Lake Winnipeg Indigenous Collective (LIWC). For the first time since the pandemic’s start, the nonprofit was able to come together for its 2023 gathering. The organization focuses on ensuring waters are healthy, traditional livelihoods are restored, and Indigenous perspectives are influential in protecting and sustaining Lake Winnipeg.

“So far, we’ve been pushing for Federal and Provincial Governments to have meetings with First Nations rights holders,” says Daniel Gladu Kanu, Director of LWIC. “When we hear about a project around Lake Winnipeg, it’s important that the people who live there, people with generations of history, are part of those developments.”

Gladu Kanu adds anything that’s happening around water that doesn’t include Indigenous peoples will ultimately to fail.

“It’s going to be slow to come out, and it’s not going to be the right solution. So we need to have First Nations people at that table.”

Chris Clarke, President of Norway House Fisher Co-op and a speaker at the gathering, has seen first-hand the impacts projects have had on Indigenous communities. He feels conversations and collectives are integral to meeting environmental and community protections.

“It’s important for our people and all people involved in the Indigenous Collective to start that dialogue. That awareness has to go out to the public and the people buying the energy, whether in Canada or North America. We got to bring that awareness that it’s not all ‘green energy’ as it’s portrayed to be and to bring awareness to how it’s altering and somewhat decimating people’s well-being, especially our Cree people.”

Clarke spoke on the Cree experience adapting to hydro impacts and the cumulative effects they’ve had to endure for nearly half a century. Many of the practices his people have sustained themselves with have been dramatically altered, and the challenges they face exercising their treaty rights of commercial fishing and hunting. many projects have had astronomical effects on the natural environment’s water quality, terrestrial and aquatic animal populations, and plant life, including those used in traditional medicines or food. This has Clark concerned about what’s being left behind for youths.

“We don’t see too many of the next generation continuing these traditional activities because it’s somewhat difficult to provide and sustain for yourself, that we once enjoyed in a peaceful way.”

Clarke says Manitoba Hydro has come around, but some things happen behind the scenes that Indigenous communities only become aware of after the fact. With new leadership comes further improvements. Information flows easier and earlier, and traditional resource users are invited more to discussions around the table, but Clarke says collaboration and debate need to continue going further.

Another speaker at the event was Michael Sutherland, Peguis First Nation Special Projects, who spoke on recognizing the importance of natural balance. Peguis Consultation and Special Projects work on consultations involving Manitoba Infrastructure, Manitoba Hydro, Enbridge, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, all levels of Government, and other First Nations. With the extreme climate events we’re witnessing worldwide and record-high temperatures, he believes we’re seeing the effects of a world out of balance. When talking about finding balance, Sutherland likes to use a project from the United States as an example, when the grey wolf was reintroduced into Yellow Stone National Park in 1995.

In the 1930s, the wolf population was killed off within the park. This was an extended campaign since the 1800s to protect livestock. Unfortunately, there were cascading effects from the loss of wolves. Songbirds left, elk and coyotes became overpopulated, and beavers disappeared. Plant life was overgrazed, and the entire region was thrown out of balance. With the reintroduction of wolves, things have turned around. Sutherland says that’s what he means when he talks about natural balance, and there’s a lot we can learn from his people’s traditional practices in conversations about conservation and environmentalism. 

“As Indigenous people, we’ve kept our ceremonies, ways of life, and teachings to ourselves for too long. We have to start sharing that with the rest of society, the rest of the world, so they can understand when we talk about balance and mother nature.”

Another speaker included Aimée Craft, University of Ottawa, Research Chair Nibi Miinawaa Aki Inaakonigewin, on recognizing the legal rights of water. Gladu Kanu was the day’s final speaker, renewing the organization’s collective responsibility.

A representative from the First Nation Communities Engagement on Climate Adaptation in Manitoba was also in attendance with a community survey to understand the impacts of climate change better and help the Province learn more about how communities are adapting to the effects. The project also includes the following:

  • An online survey
  • looking for project ambassadors from First Nations to join the Climate Adaptation Working Group
  • And a First Nation Climate Adaptation Summit. 

To learn more, contact Meaghan Puals at mpauls@scatliff.ca or 204-927-3444 ex. 231.

The Province is undertaking separate engagement processes with Northern Affairs Communities. For more information, contact ccinfo@gov.mb.ca

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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