Challenging the harms of hydroelectricity projects

The rabble podcast network offers an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society, stories, community and life in general. All opinions belong to the podcaster; however, podcasters are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new podcasters -- contact us for details.

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Used with permission of Wa Ni Sak Tan: an alliance of hydro-impacted communities.

Ramona Neckoway is a professor at the University College of the North in Thompson, Manitoba. She is also a member of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, a hydro-impacted community. Stephane McLachlan is a professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Both do research studying the impacts and implications of hydroelectricity projects on the environment and on Indigenous communities. Scott Neigh interviews them about Wa Ni Ska Tan, an alliance that brings together people from communities in Manitoba that have been impacted by hydroelectricity projects, as well as their supporters, for both action and research.

In the last two decades, industry has deployed increasingly extreme mechanisms to extract fossil fuels. From fracking to the tarsands, these forms of extraction are toxic, dangerous and of course contribute to the growing global climate crisis.

Given that, it is tempting to rush uncritically towards any energy source that brands itself as "green," "renewable," or "sustainable." In the Canadian context, by far the most developed approach that claims those labels is hydroelectricity -- that is, electricity produced via generators driven by flows of water. Around 60 per cent of Canada's electricity is hydro. In Manitoba, that number is 96.8 per cent.

Among most Canadians, hydro has a pretty green reputation. However, this benevolent image does not hold up if you actually go and talk to people who live in communities that bear the brunt of what hydro projects do.

The impact on the land is often devastating -- some lakes are de-watered, other areas are flooded, water flow patterns are altered using human-made channels, shorelines are radically reconfigured, water is contaminated and ecosystems are disrupted. The social, economic and cultural impacts on the local people can be profound. And of course, the impacted communities are frequently Indigenous. In terms of what they do to land and to people, many hydro projects belong in the same tradition of industrial colonialism as resource extraction projects like mining and fossil fuels.

Wa Ni Ska Tan is a Cree phrase meaning "rise up" or "wake up." Though a range of communities from across the province are involved in the alliance, its core work centres Cree communities in the north, including Neckoway's.

There is, of course, a fraught history when it comes to collaborations between academics and Indigenous communities, so it is a priority for the alliance to centre the communities and community members in decision-making and to emphasize equity in its operations.

The impacts of hydro projects in Manitoba have not been systematically documented since the 1970s, so that is one aspect of the alliance's work. People from impacted communities have made it a major priority for the alliance to use the resulting material (including the stories of residents) to educate decision-makers and to raise awareness and mobilize support among grassroots people elsewhere in the country.

The alliance also engages in other forms of research, documentary filmmaking, developing teaching resources, and providing support and mentorship for Indigenous youth. They work to get resources to communities and to create opportunities for cross-community relationship-building and collaboration.

Another key part of the alliance's work is creating opportunities for people from impacted communities to advocate directly with relevant regulators and decision-makers. And the alliance's next big event will be a gathering from November 8-10 in Winnipeg that will bring together people from hydro-impacted communities not only in Manitoba but from other parts of Canada and around the world.

Image: Used with permission of Wa Ni Sak Tan: an alliance of hydro-impacted communities.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter

***********************

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.