A State of Erosion: A Legacy of Hydro in Manitoba’s North
Canada is the world’s third-largest producer of hydroelectric energy, with 97% of the energy in the Province of Manitoba produced by hydroelectricity under the crown corporation of Manitoba Hydro. 75% of that energy comes from five dams on the Nelson River system in the north of the province where a sixth mega-dam known as Keeyask is currently under construction to provide export energy to the United States. These dams have always been marketed as clean renewable energy, while at the same time they have transformed ecosystems, effectively impacting indigenous health, culture, and livelihood. After decades of exploiting indigenous lands without consultation, Manitoba Hydro was forced to partner with four communities whose traditional territory would be impacted by the new Keeyask dam. The proposed partnership divided the people – from those who saw the future in modern terms and those who clung tightly to their indigenous values to protect nature. Ultimately all four communities signed on: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation, York Landing, and War Lake Cree Nation. Each voted to purchase shares in the project, totaling 25%. Many who voted for the project said they were told, and believed, it would be built with or without their consent. Since approval, the dam has gone massively over budget from $5.7 billion to $6.5, now to an estimated $8.7 billion. However, by the time it is complete in 2021, it could cost upwards of $10.5 billion. This budget overrun coupled with a drop in the price of electricity in the U.S., due to natural gas fracking, has undercut profitability and the prospect for the communities to financially benefit from the partnership. The Tataskweyak Cree Nation who resides 60 km upstream of the new dam are worried for their future. Struggling with an already critical housing shortage, high unemployment, youth suicide, a drug crisis and a long-term boil water advisory, they will face the direct impacts of the Keeyask dam as their water levels rise, threatening the very foundations of their community and further contributing to a legacy of damages to First Nations environments.
A State of Erosion explores the reality of hydroelectric development in Northern Manitoba and seeks to examine its place within the broader legacy of Canada’s evolving history of environmental colonialism.