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Great Lakes Article:

Our cheap energy floods Manitoba Cree with grief and hardship
By Art Coulson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
06/15/03


Listen to the Nisichaqayasihk Cree people who drove 20
hours in two cramped vans from their homes in Northern
Manitoba to the Twin Cities last week.

They will tell you the huge hydropower projects that have
flooded their lands north of Lake Winnipeg have not brought
the prosperity they were promised 30 years ago. Where are
the jobs? Where is the clean water? The fish? The muskrat
and beaver that once were trapped in abundance?

The 20 Cree people - elders and residents from a handful
of communities near South Indian Lake - came to speak with
Xcel Energy shareholders at their annual meeting last week.
They came to inform them - and us - that what the Cree
chiefs and band councils are saying about broad public
support for the hydro projects is bunk.

Listen to them as they tell of sick children, hopelessness
and loss of resources.

For many native people, stories, culture, even language
are tied to a specific place. And these people - more than
400 families - lost their place decades ago when dams were
erected and rivers diverted. Their homes, cemeteries, sacred
spaces were flooded.

How does this affect us as we sit comfortably in our homes
here 1,400 miles to the south? Xcel Energy is Manitoba
Hydro's largest customer. Minnesota utilities buy 40
percent of the power generated by these dams.

So, in a way, you could say we flooded these homes. We
destroyed these resources, these lives. It is a choice we
made in return for inexpensive, clean power.

Xcel officials, who have engaged in an ongoing dialogue
with the Cree over the years, point out that new plants
planned by Manitoba Hydro are not being built to serve our
needs. In fact, Xcel will buy a smaller percentage of
electricity from Manitoba hydro over the next decade.

Manitoba Hydro wants to build a new $750 million
hydroelectric dam, a 200-megawatt generating station on the
Burntwood River, so that it may export even more power.

More flooding. More damage.

Again, Manitoba Hydro is promising jobs and prosperity to
the Cree people who will be affected by the project. Forgive
the Cree if they seem incredulous.

Listen to Angus Dysart who was a young man when the last
deal was struck between Manitoba Hydro and the Cree:

"Before the flooding, we were self-sufficient. We had
plenty of fish for commercial fishing. We trapped and sold
furs. We had beautiful beaches. . They promised us
prosperity two or three decades ago. That hasn't happened.
They trained us for jobs, but we never got the jobs."

Now, unemployment in the Cree communities near the project
stands near 85 percent. And an area larger than the
seven-county Twin Cities metro region is under water.

Xcel received permission from a unanimous Minnesota Public
Utilities Commission in December to extend its contract with
Manitoba Hydro through 2015, a deal worth $1.7 billion. The
Cree and local environmentalists had asked the PUC to order
a review of the environmental and socioeconomic damage
caused by the flooding before approving the contract. But
the PUC decided the terms of a Canadian agreement with the
Cree provided sufficient recourse to the affected bands.

Perhaps it does.

But the 20 people sleeping on a church floor last week
after spending two days cramped in a pair of vans don't feel
they have any power under the 1977 Northern Flood
Agreement.

Listen to them and think about their circumstances as you
turn on the central air this weekend.

Our choices have consequences.

Contact Coulson at 345 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101;
(651) 228-5544 or at acoulson@pioneerpress.com.

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