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Canadian Native Groups Describe Hydroelectric Damage to Northern Communities

LWF Asked to Support Aboriginal People in Quest for Self-Sustainability

WINNIPEG, Canada, 29 July 2003 – When massive hydroelectric power plants were constructed in northern Manitoba, Canada’s central province, during the 1960s and 1970s, they brought more electricity to the general public but at great cost to the native people of the area.

Huge dams built along the great Churchill River diverted water where Nature never intended it to go. Native communities were flooded. Hunting and trapping grounds were damaged. Debris from flooded timber littered the shorelines and made boat navigation unsafe. Mercury poisoned the fish, ancestral sites were destroyed and the quality of the water itself was reduced.

All of this happened without proper consultation with the native people whose traditional lands were affected, aboriginal groups maintain.

"The government came and built, and after that they said we will talk," said Victor Spence, development manager with the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) of Split Lake in north-central Manitoba.

Today, however, native groups say they are determined to be masters of their own fate concerning future hydroelectric developments in the region.

That was the message a TCN delegation brought to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Tenth Assembly in Winnipeg on July 29.

"We are here today to have understanding of what our goals and aspirations are in the community of Split Lake," Chief Norman Flett said.

"Understanding is what we ask for. Listen to what we have to say and judge for yourselves what will benefit our community."

In a PowerPoint presentation, the TCN delegation outlined how they and other similarly-affected native groups dealt with the federal and provincial governments, and Manitoba Hydro, the province’s publicly-owned electric utility, to ensure better treatment.

Since 1977, native groups have negotiated agreements with governments and Hydro for remedial, compensation and development measures related to flood damage.

TCN and Hydro together assessed the damage caused by electrical power developments and worked toward developing better models for dam projects.

TCN, a Cree community of 2,600 people, insisted that its consent by referendum would be necessary for future electrical projects on its traditional lands to proceed. Such projects must have social, economic and cultural benefits for native peoples, TCN stated.

"This is totally different from the 1970s era," Spence said.

Primarily members of the Anglican Church of Canada, TCN people claim support from Lutheran and other Canadian churches in determining their own social and economic future.

"If Aboriginal people are to realize their aspirations as peoples and nations, they must be architects of their own future, freely and responsibly," said a 1987 pastoral statement by leaders of the Christian Churches on Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Constitution.

The TCN delegation said the LWF could help them by speaking out for aboriginal rights and assisting native groups in their journey toward self-determination and spiritual healing.

"We will determine what will benefit our community," said Flett. "Things have changed."

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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