POLITICS

First Nations protesters occupy grounds of Manitoba Hydro dam, refuse to leave

10/16/2014 04:18 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
CROSS LAKE, Man. - Protesters from a northern Manitoba First Nation are occupying the grounds around a generating station and have issued an eviction notice to Manitoba Hydro for what they say is a violation of their treaty rights.

More than 100 protesters from the Cross Lake First Nation north of Lake Winnipeg marched to the hydro dam Wednesday and some have refused to leave the grounds. In a letter to Hydro president Scott Thomson, Chief Catherine Merrick said the First Nation is taking control of its traditional territory and evicting the Crown corporation.

"You do not respect our rights," she wrote in the letter dated Oct. 6. "You do not even respect or acknowledge who we are as people. Money and profit — that which you make off our traditional territory and people — is apparently all you care about."

Treaties signed by the First Nation agreed to share the land with the Crown, as long as "you act honourably," the letter states. Manitoba Hydro is guilty of fraud for using "these treaty lands for your own purposes regardless of what we, as the original title-holders, would have to say about it," Merrick wrote.

A Facebook page dedicated to the occupation showed video of dozens of protesters occupying the site Wednesday and featured a deafening alarm wailing from the station.

"I think they figured they would scare us off," posted Darwin Paupanakis. "Anyways eviction has occurred. Now next thing if they want back in ... we talk rent."

The Jenpeg generating station, which cost $310 million to build in the 1970s, is about 525 kilometres north of Winnipeg and is a key element in Manitoba Hydro's northern electricity generation. The dam is used to help regulate the level of Lake Winnipeg, which has become swollen in recent years due to flooding, and the site also acts as a reservoir for other northern generating stations.

Stan Struthers, cabinet minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, was not immediately available to comment. Cabinet spokesman Matthew Williamson said Struthers has also offered protesters a meeting to discuss their concerns.

Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said he doesn't know how many protesters were at the dam site Thursday. Some employees were allowed to leave under police escort, but Manitoba Hydro personnel were not being allowed to enter, he said.

"Our immediate concern is for the safety of our employees who are on site, members of the public and the protesters themselves, obviously because it's an operating electrical facility," Powell said. "Our staff are continuing to man both the generating station and staff house using supervisory and security staff.

"We've taken measures to secure the physical plant and to maintain operations, not only of the generating plant itself, but also the Lake Winnipeg regulation control works."

The corporation has been reaching out to the band's leadership since May for a meeting but to no avail, Powell said.

"The factors underlying the protest are pretty complex and they've got a long history. In some cases they involve parties other than Manitoba Hydro and Cross Lake," Powell said.

"We continue to hope we can resolve the situation as soon as possible to protect the safety of all concerned and the ongoing reliability of Manitoba's electrical supply."

— By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg

Note to readers: This story has been clarified to reflect that protesters are occupying the grounds around the generating station.