Here we are in December, busy lacing strings and strings of imitation-icicle Christmas lights to anything within a 50-metre radius of an outlet. Our politicians in southern Ontario are talking about achieving a more secure power supply, one that's not dependent on the United States but on none other than friendly Manitoba.
What could be better than an endless supply of friendly Manitoba's clean and environmentally friendly hydro power?
Absolutely nothing, if you listen to the premiers of the two provinces awaiting a feasibility study for the Conawapa hydro mega-project to supply power to southern Ontario. But Manitoba, like Ontario, has a dirty little secret that successive energy ministers and premiers refuse to face - indigenous peoples whose lands continue to be devastated by the effects of hydroelectric dams. Indigenous peoples who are refusing to be bought off by energy ministers acting as drug dealers for their addicted constituents.
According to Cree and Anishininaabeg teachings, waters and waterways are the lifeblood of our Mother the Earth. River veins flow through our territories, gently cleansing the land and replenishing all of creation. Rivers sustain our families, our communities and our nations. And so, when crown corporations enter our territories and begin to colonize the veins of our Mother by constructing large-scale industrial dams, it is an assault on the land, our nations, our knowledge, our communities and our way of life.
It is difficult to find a Métis or First Nations community in the boreal forest of Canada that has not felt the destructive impacts of hydroelectric development.
Water levels in lakes and rivers fluctuate to unnaturally high and low levels at the control of hydro. This causes tremendous shoreline erosion, leading to the disappearance of islands and shoreline habitat. Dead trees lining the shores and bottoms of reservoirs create abnormal levels of wood and sedimentation for several decades after the initial flooding occurs, leading to levels of methyl mercury so high that fish are often too contaminated to be eaten.
This heightens our dependency on non-traditional activities and consumption-based Western society. When we are removed from our land, we have less access to our traditional foods and medicines.
When our sacred, ceremonial and burial sites are destroyed we have fewer places to renew ourselves and practise our cultural and spiritual beliefs.
The disrespect, injustice and blatant disregard for our sovereignty and our rights as nations causes anger, resentment and often feelings of hopelessness in our communities.
Indigenous leaders who sign partnership agreements with provincial governments will be disappointed. There will be few jobs, and indigenous leaders will be no closer to building sustainable northern communities with sustainable economic systems based on indigenous values. Indigenous peoples will get poorer.
Indigenous peoples and environmental activists should take a page from JustEnergy in Minnesota. JustEnergy is a campaign focused on educating consumers about the devastating effects Manitoba Hydro's large-scale dams are having on people and the environment in northern Manitoba. U.S. utility Xcel Energy sells Manitoba Hydro energy to unknowing customers in the U.S.
Ontario consumers are next.
We must address the underlying issue that has driven us from coal to nuclear to hydro. We are addicted. We are power junkies, and it appears that we will do just about anything to anybody (particularly if they are poor and brown) to get a fix.
The blackout showed us something different - that our lives could be richer and more meaningful and more comfortable when we stopped worrying about when we could get our next fix. For a brief moment, we were on the wagon, and it felt good. Buying power from a different dealer won't solve anything.
Leanne Simpson (Anishinaabekwe) is Indigenous Peoples coordinator for the Boreal Forest Network and director of Indigenous Environmental Studies at Trent University.