Human Rights Day rally calls on Manitoba Hydro to address effects of development on First Nations

On Human Rights Day, people marched through Winnipeg streets to raise awareness about the impacts that hydroelectric development has had on northern Manitoba communities.

'What hydro projects can do to your land, your territory, environment is very devastating' says participant

Sadie Phoenix Lavoie addresses the crowd before the walk to the Manitoba legislature. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

On Human Rights Day, people marched through Winnipeg streets to raise awareness about the impacts that hydroelectric development has had on northern Manitoba communities.

A few dozen supporters started off Monday's rally at the Manitoba Hydro Place courtyard and wound their way to the steps of the Manitoba Legislature.

They were calling on the province and Manitoba Hydro to be accountable to the Indigenous communities that have been affected by hydroelectric dams in the north.

"We're hoping to showcase to the provincial government that these communities are trying to have their voices heard and that there's Winnipeggers and Manitobans that are also listening to their calls," said Sadie Phoenix Lavoie.

Lavoie, community co-ordinator for Wa Ni Ska Tan, an alliance of hydro-impacted communities, helped to organize the march.

Wa Ni Ska Tan also gathered signatures and messages on postcards, which were then delivered to Premier Brian Pallister's office during the march.

A report released earlier this year on decades of hydro development in Manitoba's north ​contained allegations of sexual abuse by Manitoba Hydro workers against Indigenous women, as well as the far-reaching environmental and social impacts of developments.

Martina Saunders is hoping more people who are affected by hydro developments will speak up for themselves. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Martina Saunders from York Factory First Nation said the impacts of hydro developments extend beyond economics.

"There's a historical relationship with hydro development and Indigenous women in the north where they're sexually exploited," said Saunders.

"It's important for me to show support for Indigenous people in the north, but especially for Indigenous women who are being hurt by the hydro camps."

Jackson Osborne travelled to Winnipeg from Pimicikamak Cree Nation for the rally. Osborne, 66, is a photographer and has been documenting the changes that he's seen on his home territory for decades.

Jackson Osborne and Rita Monias travelled from Pimicikimak Cree Nation to attend Monday's rally. He is hoping that the province and Manitoba Hydro will honour the Northern Flood Agreement. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

"It's important to tell our story to Manitobans, to Canadians or people around the world," said Osborne.

"What hydro projects can do to your land, your territory, environment is very devastating."

Osborne said people in his community can no longer swim safely in the waters because they fluctuate and are murky. He also said his ancestors' burial sites have been washed away by erosion.

"If you see our burial sites, our ancestors are history," said Osborne.

He said the government in Manitoba and the federal government need to honour the treaties and the Northern Flood Agreement.

In an emailed response, a spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro said respect and support of Indigenous Peoples in all aspects of their business is "a critical priority."

"We recognize the impact hydro-electric development has had on many Indigenous communities," the email said.

"We also recognize that resolving past grievances is fundamental to strengthening our relationships with Indigenous communities.... We continue to address the adverse effects of our existing operations including on the customs, practices and traditions of Indigenous people integral to their cultural identity. Manitoba Hydro has compensation agreements with all First Nation communities affected by past hydroelectric development with an aim to build a more positive future together."


  • A previous version of this story said Manitoba Hydro had not yet responded to a request for comment. In fact, Manitoba Hydro responded Monday to a request for comment from CBC Manitoba.
    Dec 11, 2018 12:28 PM ET


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He was an associate producer with CBC Indigenous.