Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Day 44

Two groups of protestors - one from Grand Rapids, the other from South Indian Lake - are camping out at the provincial legislature to protest the impact of a hydroelectric dam constructed more than four decades ago.

"We want compensation from Manitoba Hydro for destroying our community," Nelly Morrisseau said June 14, the ninth day of the camp-out on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. "We will leave when we have an agreement with Manitoba Hydro."

"They did not just destroy the land. They destroyed the way of life," said Morrisseau, a 67-year-old Metis, who is from the area outside of the boundaries of the Grand Rapids First Nation.

She said that people from the First Nation are unhappy also, but they did receive compensation ($5.5 million) for the dam, which construction began on in 1960. The Métis received nothing, said Morrisseau, who explained that her group represented about 500 people. She wasn't revealing the dollar value of their compensation demand, but added that the government has been told what was being sought.

Prior to dam construction, there was limited access to the rest of the world. People were largely self-sufficient, hunting, fishing and gathering food and medicine.

"You can't drink the water any more," adds another one of the camper-protestors, 74-year-old Dorothy Parachuk. "The trees are flooded. There are no more berries. Everything is polluted… We cannot even eat the rabbits anymore because they are not healthy. They are skinny."

Morrisseau says a tremendous amount has changed since the dam was built. The places where many Métis lived have been flooded and the land in areas not flooded has been scarred through construction. Many people have moved away to cities in search of livelihood. Social problems have soared and even the beautiful rapids, which gave the community its name, are gone.

"In 2006, people our age should not have to sit here in the sun," said Morrisseau, who is with the small group of campers whose presence is sometimes bolstered by supporters. After their protest began, they were joined by some protesters from South Indian Lake, who also have unresolved issues relating to Manitoba Hydro.

Last fall the Ovide Mercredi, the recently elected chief at the Grand Rapids First Nation, made news when he and Robbie Buck, mayor of the Rural Municipality of Grand Rapids, staged a sit-in at the base of the dam's spillway partially to protest Manitoba Hydro's announcement that it would open the spillway with only two day's notice, an action that would create problems for fishermen and people wanting to harvest lumber.

In 1992 South Indian Lake was paid $18.8 million, but about half of the 1,500 residents left because of the impact of hydro-electric projects completed in the 1970s.

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