The Council of the North voted to join the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a native community in Manitoba, in “advocating for the establishment of a national public policy, which clearly recognizes the inherent and inalienable rights of First Nations regarding water on, under, and flowing across their lands, and adjacent to their lands.”
The resolution, passed unanimously during the Council’s fall meeting in Split Lake, Man., from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, also stated that member dioceses would also advocate for the First Nations’ “right to participate as full partnerships in the public trusteeship of such waters, including the governance, management, and benefits of these waters.”
The Council, together with Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, had met partly at the Tataskweyak Cree Nation Reserve at the invitation of the band council and the community. The Council meeting included a tour of the Kettle Generating Facility.
“They (Tataskweyak Cree Nation) were anxious that we have an understanding of their situation vis- -vis Manitoba Hydro and with regards to their resources,” said Council co-chair Archbishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee.
In 2000, the Tataskweyak Cree Nation signed an agreement in principle with Manitoba Hydro to jointly build the 640-megawatt Keeyask dam at Gull Rapids on the Nelson River. Community members are expected to vote on the proposed project late this year or early next year. It will be a difficult decision for the community, Tataskweyak negotiator Victor Spence told the Winnipeg Free Press in a recent interview. “It’s not easy when you’re an aboriginal person dealing with something like flooding land,” he said, noting that the project also brings economic benefits for his people.
Questions have been raised about how much ownership Tataskweyak Cree Nation would have of the dam, and about its environmental impact. No environmental proposal has yet been filed for the project.
“It’s a massive change in their land and in their adaptation,” said Archbishop Lawrence, in an interview. “What we saw was not unfamiliar to me but it doesn’t make it less grim. With a damming of the river systems, water is dirty and polluted. It’s undrinkable. You have a community of 2,500 people drinking bottled water and they’ve been doing this for a long time.”
The community is also concerned about “much higher levels of mercury toxicity,” in the river, he said. “It’s not just in the water but in the fish…Fish is a large part of their diet.”
Flooding was also noted. “Manitoba Hydro had agreed not to exceed a certain level of height of water but they’ve exceeded it,” he said. A new extension to the Anglican cemetery, dedicated in the presence of the primate, “is in danger of being flooded,” he added.
He said that what the bishops saw raises questions like, “Was there adequate study ahead of time of the massive environmental impact or was it simply something like, ‘what compensation can we give people who are in the way of this?’ What does it really do to the land, to the communities, and to the whole ecology of the area?” These “should be a concern to all Canadian Anglicans,” he said.
In a position paper published by Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice coalition, Tataskweyak Cree Nation’s Rev. Melvin Cook said his community wants the project “to meet the standards of responsible stewardship of Aski (Earth) and must result in projects that are sustainable.”
Archbishop Lawrence said Tataskweyak’s concerns will be shared with the national church’s eco-justice committee and Kairos, which has launched a national public awareness campaign highlighting “threats to drinking water access in Canada and overseas.”
The primate joined representatives from seven other denominations in a ceremony in Ottawa Oct. 6, where they issued a pastoral statement calling on the Canadian government “to take immediate action nationally and internationally to ensure access to clean water for all.”