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Keeyask Generation Project is another dam problem

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Twitter photo by @manitobahydro.

The Keeyask Project is a hydro-electric dam project that has been under construction since July 2014 on the Nelson River within Treaty 5 territory in northern Manitoba, about 725 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

Manitoba Hydro is the majority shareholder in the project with the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, York Factory First Nation, and Fox Lake Cree Nation holding a 25 per cent share in the mega-project.

The Flin Flon Reminder recently reported that "work slated for the project throughout the rest of 2018 includes completion of river diversion and spillway work, powerhouse unit construction and the pouring of more than 100,000 cubic metres of concrete."

The generating station could be operational as early as the fall of 2020.

And even though the four First Nations are partners in the project, major concerns are being raised about the impacts of the dam.

Like the Site C dam in Treaty 8 territory in northern British Columbia or the Muskrat Falls dam that will impact Innu and Inuit territories in Labrador, the Keeyask dam will cost billions of public dollars -- and billions more than originally estimated -- that could otherwise be better invested for the public good.

Keeyask was originally to cost $6.5 billion. The building cost is now estimated to be $8.7 billion, and it could eventually cost $10.5 billion.

Like other dams, it will also flood territory. In this instance, Keeyask will flood about 45 square kilometres of boreal taiga lands.

There are also concerns that once the dam is complete, it will impact Split Lake, a water body 60 kilometres downstream from the project that is already affected by other mega-projects -- the Churchill River Diversion and the Lake Winnipeg Regulation.

APTN has reported, "[Douglas] Kitchekeesik fears once the Keeyask dam is complete it will back water up into Split Lake and further erode the shorelines and impact the fisheries."

The impact of that erosion has already meant that the remains of ancestors (some from 1,900 years ago) have been washing out from the banks of the lake.

And even with a 25 per cent share in the project, the APTN report quotes band councillor Robert Spence stating, "The majority partner, the owner, doesn't even include you on any of the major decision-making that takes place."

Furthermore, APTN quotes Spence as noting that, "Heavy traffic to and from the Keeyask worksite had made [Route 280] impassable for community members, including patients who regularly needed to get to the hospital in Thompson for dialysis treatment and other medical needs."

Last month, CBC reported, "Workers at a northern Manitoba Hydro construction site known to some as 'Keeyask-atraz' described a prison-like environment plagued by fear, intimidation, drug and alcohol abuse and discrimination, says a 2017 report that was recently made public."

That article adds, "Indigenous employees reported hearing racial slurs and derogatory comments, and complained that they were not given work they were qualified to do."

This follows a recent report from the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission that includes allegations of racism and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women by hydro workers in northern Manitoba dating back to the 1960s.

Then there is the matter of the transmission line.

The 1,384 kilometre Bipole III transmission line is being built from the Keeyask generating station to the Riel Converter Station in the rural municipality of Springfield, which is adjacent to the eastern boundary of Winnipeg.

In January 2015, the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up a blockade to stop Manitoba Hydro from clear-cutting a 65-metre-wide path for 250 kilometres through their traditional hunting and gathering territory for the transmission line.

The ancestral lands they sought to protect contain burial grounds and spiritual sites.

The transmission line also infringes on the ancestral lands of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and the Metis people.

Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand has stated, "Keeyask and its related transmission line will affect Metis rights. The Metis have not been taken seriously. We are being told we are a small and inconsequential minority in the Keeyask project area."

While massive hydro-electric dams are often presented as sources of renewable "green" energy, there is a truth -- that includes ecological destruction, violations of Indigenous rights, sexual assault, racism, and billions of dollars of misspent public funds -- beyond that spin that needs to be seen.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Twitter photo by @manitobahydro

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