Hydro’s characterization of South Indian Lake issues disputed

To the Editor:

I wish to clarify and provide further information in regard to the comments made by Manitoba Hydro’s public affairs manager Scott Powell in the Nickel Belt News printed June 19 as to the outstanding issues that remain in South Indian Lake.

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First, it is apparent to me that Scott Powell has been poorly informed, and perhaps has not read the relevant documentation. In my view, his comments mislead the general public regarding the affairs of the relationship with Manitoba Hydro and South Indian Lake. 

The statements made by Scott Powell were as follows:

 “The agreement is being followed. We work with chief and council, the elected officials of South Indian Lake, the issues he has raised are in fact being dealt with in a timely manner.” 

Mr. Powell is incorrect with this statement. The 1992 CASIL (Community Association of South Indian Lake) Agreement is clear. The chief and council are not signatories to this 1992 CASIL agreement. The signatory is the Community Association of South Indian Lake. 

Further, to suggest that the 1992 CASIL agreement is being followed is in my view misleading to Manitobans. The 1992 agreement requires engagement and consultation and Manitoba Hydro has taken the position since July of 2013 not to engage CASIL in any discussions with regard to this agreement.

Hydro may have had discussions with chief and council but to imply that this addresses the CASIL agreement is wrong. The 1992 CASIL agreement signatory is not the chief and council, it is CASIL whose membership is comprised of both treaty and non-status Indians.

The same situation prevails in respect of Hydro agreements with the fishers and trappers of South Indian Lake. Each is represented by an entity other than the chief and council and each has entered into an agreement with Hydro that predates the recognition of the band.

To imply that non-signatories represent those affected or that their concerns are being fully dealt with by the chief and council and Hydro without meaningful engagement is also incorrect. The fisher and trappers’ agreements actually lists the non-status (non-treaty) members as being among them as per Manitoba Hydro insistence at the time.

Second, in regard to the most recent concern brought forward by the statement made by Manitoba Hydro community relations manager Mark Sweeny, I have attempted to bring forward concerns of the introduction of foreign debris (logs, sticks and markers) into South Indian Lake by the neglect of not removing these markers by Manitoba Hydro. I have brought this concern directly to Mr. Sweeny for over two years with no address. Mr. Powell’s statement that these issues are being dealt with in a timely manner is factually incorrect. The result is that the public is misled. Hydro’s community relations department continues to ignore the concerns raised by CASIL and further cloud the issues with their selective and divisive process. In fact the markers have not been totally removed from the lake since 2007. It has been implied that my concerns are of a personal nature. That is incorrect. My emails are between two corporations and as of the writing this letter I have not received any acknowledgment of my concerns that are part of the CASIL agreement (a legal contract) signed in 1992 with CASIL, Manitoba Hydro and the government of Manitoba.

From 2003 to 2013 Manitoba Hydro did have open and transparent discussion that not only involved chief and council but also included CASIL, fishers, trappers, Manitoba and Canada and openly discussed most issues and worked towards common resolution. However since 2013 Manitoba Hydro has not engaged CASIL, fishers and trappers and also cut the funding by 48 per cent to the community and First Nation. 

The South Indian Lake Environmental Action Plan items that have been cut included: ICC commercial fishery, fishing net loss, infrastructure community & SILFA, communication, shoreline restoration, community shoreline, youth programs, portage restoration, cataloguing, water quality, monitoring office, mercury, resource education elders, trapping reconstruction, loss of land, impact outboard motor repair, sturgeon research, cabin replacement, and agreements discussion, etc. 

To add further insult to South Indian Lake, Manitoba Hydro is currently proposing in the Power Development Agreement Supplement #2 to give Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) a “gift” of $50 million. No matter how much of accounting wizardry one engages in, Manitoba Hydro cannot make the Wuskwatim project look profitable. The amount of this gift would have funded our rebuilding programs for decades. 

Not addressing our issues in a timely manner in regard to South Indian Lake will allow Hydro to continue its devastating operation of the Churchill River Diversion Project (CRD), (which the Wuskwatim project significantly relies on) and which the CASIL agreement attempts to address.

Furthermore Manitoba Hydro is proposing to give NCN a direct benefit in the ongoing destruction of South Indian Lake. When Manitoba Hydro “spills” water out of Missi Falls control structure, NCN will receive a payment as if that water went through Wuskwatim Generating Station. It is a fact that the operation of Missi Falls control structure directly impacts South Indian Lake with no benefit to South Indian Lake’s environment, community or economy and when Hydro “spills” the water they do not generate one cent of revenue anywhere, so not only will the destruction of South Indian Lake continue but now a separate First Nation (NCN) will receive a direct payment and South Indian Lake will continue to be ignored. 

I can only imagine that the chief and council of South Indian Lake (O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation) are not fully aware of these issues or the details of all agreements. If they were, I suspect that the “good relationship” referenced by Scott Powell would be anything but.

In my view, Manitoba Hydro has undermined the democratic process in the communities it impacts for over 50 years by its divisive, selective, misleading and undermining tactics. This must stop.

In January 2015 Premier Greg Selinger apologized to all aboriginal people impacted by Manitoba Hydro and proposed a new era of reconciliation. How can we have reconciliation when Manitoba Hydro continues to ignore concerns, agreement and moves forward without change?

Maybe forcing Manitoba Hydro to stop its divisive tactics and compelling them to honour their contractual commitments to CASIL and others would be a start.

Leslie W. Dysart

CEO, CASIL Inc. 

South Indian Lake

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