Pimicikamak Elder weighs in on Manitoba Premier’s Apology

by CBC News

At least one elder from a northern Manitoba First Nation, where Premier Greg Selinger delivered a landmark apology this week, says a statement was long overdue for the damages caused by hydroelectric development to the land and water.

Selinger travelled to the Pimicikamak Cree Nation on Tuesday to issue a formal apology, on behalf of the provincial government, to members of the community — also known as Cross Lake — for the environmental and social harm caused by the Jenpeg hydroelectric dam over the past four decades.

At least one elder from a northern Manitoba First Nation, where Premier Greg Selinger delivered a landmark apology this week, says a statement was long overdue for the damages caused by hydroelectric development to the land and water.

Selinger travelled to the Pimicikamak Cree Nation on Tuesday to issue a formal apology, on behalf of the provincial government, to members of the community — also known as Cross Lake — for the environmental and social harm caused by the Jenpeg hydroelectric dam over the past four decades.

"The premier should apologize to the muskrats, to the beavers, to the fish, to the moose," said Jackson Osborne, a Pimicikamak elder who has been documenting changes to Nelson River and the land near his community over the past 30 years.

Manitoba Hydro uses Jenpeg — located about 20 kilometres from Pimicikamak — to control outflows from Lake Winnipeg into the Nelson River.

First Nation officials have said the hydro system floods 65 square kilometres of Pimicikamak land and causes severe damage to thousands of kilometres of shoreline.

'The land was good before'

Osborne said when Hydro built the dam in the 1960s, water levels were controlled to rise and fall to generate electricity for the south, and that was when animals started to die.

Ed McKay, a local trapper, said muskrats no longer live along the riverbanks these days.

"The land was good before. Today you can't kill anything," he said.

Pimicikamak signed a Northern Flood Agreement (NFA) with the province in 1977, before the dam opened, but the First Nation has said the Crown corporation and the provincial government haven't fulfilled their promise to eradicate the mass poverty and mass unemployment on the First Nation.

There are 8,240 people who live on the First Nation, which has an 80 per cent unemployment rate.

Cree Nation members occupied the Jenpeg hydroelectric dam for six weeks late last year, after hundreds marched to the site on Oct. 16.

The occupation ended after an agreement was reached between the First Nation, Manitoba Hydro and the provincial government "to reset the relationship between the parties."

Osborne said he hopes the photographs and videos he has taken of changes in the environment will serve as evidence that will help his people.

"Once everything is gone, what are we going to eat? Are we going to eat money, or plastic cards?" he said.