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Legal Justice for South Indian Lake

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In the mid-1970s, Manitoba Hydro built the Churchill River Diversion project in our home territory in northern Manitoba. They poured cement in the water, they blasted a nine-km channel through the forest, and they forcibly relocated our entire community.

The massive project diverts 85 percent of the flow of the second largest river in Manitoba. It also floods over 800 square kilometres of boreal forest.

The ecological, economic and cultural damage is severe, ongoing and heartbreaking. Words can never express the loss and grief our community has endured and continues to endure.

The Diversion was built without our consent and against our wishes. The Manitoba Government issued a licence for the project in violation of our best interests. We had no say.

What Manitoba Hydro did was flat-out wrong. That license authorized Hydro to sacrifice our well-being for the sake of southern interests.

Once the water had gone up, the province then allowed Hydro to raise the water even further which put even more strain on the already crippled ecosystems.

We wish we could say that government attitudes and practices have changed since the ‘70s, but we still have no meaningful say in how the Churchill River Diversion is operated. We have urged the Manitoba Government to require Hydro to take specific steps to ease up on their relentless assault on our waterways. Our requests have been ignored.

On May 12, 2021, the Manitoba Government issued a final licence for Churchill River Diversion, again bulldozing aside our concerns and doubling down on past mistakes. The final licence requires no changes in operations of the Diversion, thus cementing the status quo. The only thing that changed is that the government removed the previous condition that Manitoba Hydro fully mitigate
certain impacts, as outlined below.

We cannot accept the ongoing damage. We cannot accept the outdated attitudes. We will not just sit back and allow more business as usual, because business as usual is destroying us. We need change.

After enduring nearly 50 years of harm arising from a massive hydropower project constructed against their wishes, the Community Association of South Indian Lake (CASIL), along with O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN) and the South Indian Lake Fisherman’s Associaton (SILFA) filed a statement of claim in Manitoba Court of King's Bench on May 19, 2023.

The statement of claim seeks:

1) compensation for damages from impacts of the Churchill River Diversion project that floods 837 square kilometres and raises the level of Southern Indian Lake, the fourth largest lake in the province and the heart of OPCN, by about 3 metres;

2) an order that Manitoba Hydro restore the ecological integrity of Southern Indian Lake, which was home to a highly successful commercial fishing sector that served as the economic anchor of the community; and

3) injunctions restraining Manitoba Hydro from operating the Diversion in a way that interferes with the use and enjoyment of lands and Treaty rights.

We never wanted the Churchill River Diversion. It should not exist. The water should still be free to flow as it is meant to flow. The fish should still be free to spawn where they are meant to spawn. Our beloved homelands should not be sacrificed. But we are not demanding that Churchill River Diversion be dismantled; only that damages be addressed and that we have a meaningful say in how the Diversion is operated.

“How can we teach our children our traditional practices when our lands and waters are being destroyed?” We need to protect Southern Indian Lake for the future of our people.” - OPCN Chief Shirley Ducharme

"The Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro have succeeded in doing what the Federal government and the churches have not been able to do in the last 500 years, and that is the cultural, social and economic genocide of a people." - Steve Ducharme, Lifelong Fisher, and current President of SILFA

“I have lived every second of my life under the oppression of Manitoba Hydro. No longer will we allow the sacrifice of our environment, economy, community and children. Meaningful change is needed.” - Leslie Dysart, CEO of CASIL.

The Community Association of South Indian Lake (CASIL) has already sunk $15,000 into this legal battle, which had barely just begun. We expect that legal fees will go north of $100,000. But money can't be the barrier. This is how Manitoba Hydro, and corporations like it, can continue to operate unchecked.

Please help CASIL fight the good fight.

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South Indian Lake Community
Organizer
South Indian Lake, MB

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