Manitoba

Allegations against Manitoba Hydro workers: What you need to know

In 165 pages of testimony, members of the First Nation spoke of sexual assaults, racism, feeling marginalized and a lack of socioeconomic opportunities.

Claims of sexual assault, racism in northern First Nation described in new report

A report authored by released by the Clean Environment Commission says Manitoba Hydro workers sexually abused Indigenous women in a remote northern community after the utility arrived in the area in the 1960s (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A report from the Manitoba government has revealed shocking allegations by a northern First Nation of sexual abuse and racism at the hands of Manitoba Hydro workers dating back more than 50 years.

The allegations were revealed in a report from the Clean Environment Commission, an arm's-length provincial agency that was asked to study the social impact of hydro development past and present on communities in northern Manitoba. 

As part of their work, the commission met with members of Fox Lake Cree Nation to discuss the effects of thousands of Manitoba Hydro workers descending on their small community beginning in the 1960s.

In 165 pages of testimony, members of the First Nation spoke of sexual assaults, racism, feeling marginalized and a lack of socioeconomic opportunities.

Here's what you need to know:

What do community members say happened?

Members of Fox Lake Cree Nation told the committee that their community had been "swamped and shattered" by the arrival of thousands of temporary workers.

One elder described the resulting societal breakdown as a "Hydro-triggered atrocity," the report says.

During his testimony, Franklin Arthurson said he ended up choosing to move so his children wouldn't have to experience the same racism he lived through.

He also said women would talk of being taken to jail for no reason and sexually abused in custody, as well as assaults on Fox Lake band members.

In her statement, Sophie Lockhart also described women in the community being sexually abused by hydro construction workers.

"And like there was a lot of, you could say, an influx of workers that came into our community, where they would get us drunk and take advantage of us. Not just me, but my other friends."

She said she suffered from alcoholism for years afterward, but has been sober since 1985: "I drank every chance I got, you know, to numb the pain that I'm carrying."

How did these developments impact the community on a larger scope?

During his testimony, Robert Wavey, a director of implementation and future development for Fox Lake Cree Nation, compared the impact of hydro development with that of the residential school system.

"As someone who attended residential school as well, I can tell you that the impact of hydro development is no less," he said.

"Their home community was literally taken from them and redeveloped to meet the needs of the  hydroelectric development work force, without any meaningful regard for the Fox Lake people's lifestyle, situation, needs, desires or aspirations."

As a result of all this construction, the report notes, the small town of nearby Gillam was home to camps that housed up to 1,000 workers at a time.

"Thousands of transitory workers came into the region, especially during construction periods. It took considerable time to recognize and compensate Indigenous people for the impact of this development on their communities," the report says.

What projects were built in that area?

During his testimony to the commission Davey described the area as being packed with transmission lines.

"You probably couldn't throw a stone anywhere without hitting one," he said. "That's how many there are."

Fox Lake's traditional territory includes the Kettle, Long Spruce and Limestone generating stations, two of which are the largest generating stations in the province. The area also contained the Radisson and Henday converter stations.

The Limestone generating station is the largest in the province and was completed in 1990. It is located about seven kilometres from Fox Lake Cree Nation.

The Kettle generating station was completed in 1974, and is the is the second largest hydroelectric generating station in the province. It's located roughly three kilometres upstream from the Canadian National Railway's river crossing near the town of Gillam, and about 50 kilometres from Fox Lake Cree Nation.

The Long Spruce generating station, completed in 1979, sits 27 kilometres east of Gillam and 16 kilometres downstream of the Kettle Generating Station.

The Radisson converter station was built in 1968, while the Henday converter station was built in 1977.

The Keeyask dam, a 695-megawatt generating station, is still under construction in the area along the Nelson River.

The Keeyask Generating Station is being built on the lower Nelson River near Gillam, Man. (Manitoba Hydro)

What triggered this report?

The report, titled the Regional Cumulative Effects Assessment, was commissioned by the Manitoba government in 2015.

It was the result of a recommendation that came out of another report completed by the Clean Environment Commission on the Bipole 3 Project, which said that there should be a review of the impacts of all Manitoba Hydro projects along the Nelson River sub-watershed.

"In order to fully understand the impact of proposed future projects, it will be necessary to understand the impact of past and current projects in addition to new impacts," that report said.

As part of their work, the commission was asked to invite all affected First Nations and communities identified in the assessment's study area as well as the Manitoba Metis Federation to provide written input on the effects hydro projects have had over the last several decades.

About the Author

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.