Former Chief of Bloodvein First Nation
On the Manitoba Hydro Corridor – East Side Lake Winnipeg
A number of years ago, I worked with the Department of Indian Affairs in Thompson, Manitoba. One day, way, way up at Tadoule Lake, in one of the most northerly communities in Manitoba, I was complaining about what the white man does to destroy nature and people. An elder that I worked with, the late Sam T Anderson, began to laugh and said, “I used to say those things too… you white men killed off all our buffalo!” He laughed again and continued, “We didn’t even have buffalo in Norway House.”
Sam taught me a lot in those years that we worked together. I often think of him as I do my own parents, Charles and Isabel Young, who are also gone to the other side. These older people who had limited formal education were wise none-the-less. They saw things from a different side – always. We hear people talk about respect. These old people lived it. Respect literally means to look again. (Re – again, spect – to look.) For these old ones the land and its people were one. What you do to the land you do to yourself.
Our people have a great sense of humor. As Waylon Jennings sang “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.” For us, humor, like mythology, contains truth that cannot be explained by mere words. Humor is used to ward off stress, which can make a person physically ill if that stress is allowed to fester.
The fact that we are endangering nature and ourselves needs to be addressed. We need to be able to see that we are indeed one with the land. Folks in the cities, who think that meat comes from Safeway, may find it hard to appreciate this but the fact remains that we are one with the land and all its resources. We live with a natural law of give and take.The boreal forest is delicate. You would not be comfortable if anyone did anything to damage your lungs. In fact even the Manitoba government has become convinced of this, albeit may be for the vote. They, after all, have a law that prohibits smoking in public places.
We are made from the earth. We are told that an oak produces other oaks, a rose produces other roses. Rabbits do not produce cats and cows do not produce goats. We know that. Yet we are all produced by the earth. We are made in the image of our Producer.
The Earth is our Mother. Just like some biological mothers who breast-feed their babies, our Mother Earth feeds us from Her bosom. We even resemble our Mother. We have bones, She has rock, we have veins, She has rivers and streams, we have hair, She has grass and other plants, we have breath, She has air, we have flesh, She has soil, we have lungs, She has forests and so on. We need to take care of our environment. What ever we do comes back to us.A Manitoba Hydro corridor on the east side of Lake Winnipeg would bring serious damage to the environment, our health, and the opportunity for sustainable northern economies.
The boreal forest, which encircles the north across Canada, Europe, and Russia produces one third of the air we need to breathe. Forests across the world are being cut down at a dangerously fast rate. Our Mother’s lungs are being slashed and burned and thus endangering our lives.
Woodland caribou that used to inhabit the boreal forest down to the east central northern United States are now threatened on the east side of Lake Winnipeg because of industrial developments. Clearcut logging strips of forest for hydro lines requires that chemicals be sprayed to control new plant growth. This kills insects, reptiles, birds, fish and other wildlife therefore seriously damaging the food chain.
A hydro corridor offers no long-term jobs for the people in the affected areas. There will be no partnerships with First Nations. Also, the building of a road on the east side is not dependent on a hydro line, in fact, Manitoba Hydro does not want roads near their power lines.
As far as having an economic base on the east side – keeping it intact for eco and cultural tourism is a far more environmentally friendly and long-term minded way to go. Selective cutting for value added forest harvesting by the people in their own areas will create more jobs for local people than large scale operations by huge corporations.
It’s the right decision to keep a major hydro corridor away from the east side of Lake Winnipeg. We need to take care of our environment to ensure our well-being and potential for positive northern economic growth. What ever we do comes back to us. By keeping the boreal forest healthy, we keep ourselves healthy.
When we go wild, we lose our sight and we lose respect for the land and its resources. When we lose sight we begin to think even something as natural as breast-feeding is indecent.