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Sapotaweyak Cree Nation blockades hydro line that could power Energy East pipeline

The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation blockade was set up on Saturday.

The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up a blockade this weekend to stop Manitoba Hydro from clear-cutting a path 65 metres wide for 250 kilometres through their traditional hunting and gathering territory for the Bipole III transmission line. The First Nation has set up two teepees and a sacred fire in the path of where the trees are to be cut down. The ancestral lands they are trying to protect include burial grounds and spiritual sites. The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation is located about 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports, "The occupation is peaceful with about 30 people at the main camp in a clearing next to Highway 10 between Swan River and The Pas, Sapotaweyak Cree Chief Nelson Genaille said by phone from the site Sunday. A sacred fire for tobacco offerings was lit at the site to signal the peaceful intent." CTV notes, "The First Nation says it wants to halt work until the provincial government consults with them. Manitoba Hydro says they are continuing to assess the situation but clear-clearing in the area is continuing where possible."

Chief Genaille says, "Our people are now standing up for their rights and interests. I have exhausted the diplomatic and legal routes to voice our concerns against this project. And regrettably, the responsible Manitoba ministers and Manitoba Hydro bigwigs did not take our concerns seriously." He adds, "Northern and southern communities are getting wind of this and they could possibly come here also. I've spoken to private landowners, local communities and farmers and I've told them we all stand as one here."

The $4.6 billion Bipole III hydro-line is set to run 1,400 kilometres from the proposed Conawapa dam in northern Manitoba along the west side of Lake Winnipeg and then to the city of Winnipeg. Metro News reports, "Bipole 3 is a key part of a multibillion-dollar plan to build new hydro dams in northern Manitoba and bring it south to homes and businesses."

In May 2014, the Winnipeg Free Press reported, "[Manitoba] Hydro has told the PUB [Manitoba Public Utilities Board] there are two pipeline proposals [including the Energy East pipeline] on the table in Canada that would see more crude oil shipped from Alberta... For all that oil to flow, both pipelines need a round-the-clock supply of electricity. ...'We're looking at increased energy consumption from the pipelines -- the oil pipelines need electricity for their pumps,' Ed Wojczynski, Hydro's manager of portfolio projects, said."

That article also noted, "This new load from the pipelines highlights the sometimes overlooked electrical demand by Manitoba's industrial users, the big mining companies and fertilizer plants that need a steady supply of affordable power to operate." The top ten industrial power users in Manitoba include: Vale (Thompson), HudBay Minerals Inc. (Flin Flon), Enbridge Pipelines Inc. (southern Manitoba), Koch Fertilizer Canada ULC (Brandon), and the TransCanada Corp. pipeline (southern Manitoba).

The Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation also set up a teepee at another point on the transmission line route this weekend in solidarity with the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation.

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