A northern Manitoba First Nation has set up a blockade in the path of hydro workers clear-cutting trees to make way for a hydroelectric transmission line planned to cross their ancestral lands. On Saturday, January 24th, the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation set up what they call “a peaceful occupation that includes a sacred fire” in the path of Manitoba Hydro’s planned Bipole III transmission line.
The Sapotaweyak Cree Nation released a statement saying they want work halted on clearing a path for Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III until the provincial government consults with them as required by legal precedents. The First Nation, located north of Swan River, applied for an injunction to delay work on the line in December, but a judge denied their request earlier this month.“I have exhausted the diplomatic and legal routes to voice our concerns against this project, and regrettably, the responsible Manitoba ministers and Manitoba Hydro bigwigs did not take our concerns seriously,” said Chief Nelson Genaille in a statement.
The planned transmission line crosses the First Nation’s ancestral lands between The Pas and Swan River. According to the First Nation, the land being cleared includes burial sites and other sacred places. Manitoba Hydro said in a statement that it considers the action a blockade. “At this time we are evaluating the potential impact of the protest on our work in the area. Clearing work will continue where possible,” said Hydro spokesman Scott Powell. “Manitoba Hydro is reaching out to both the protesters and community leadership to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” he added.
Hydro will continue to evaluate its options and assess the situation, said the spokesman, noting the legal options are firmly in Hydro’s favour. “The community recently went to court to request an injunction to stop work on project, but the courts denied the request,” Powell said.
Genaille said he hopes crews will respect the occupation and not try to skirt the teepees in an effort to resume work. “They’d be making more access points and destroying more land,” he said. Genaille said community leaders from a second First Nation in the area, Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation at Indian Birch, set up a teepee Sunday at another location on the hydro line in a gesture of solidarity. About 20 people are at the Indian Birch site. “Northern and southern communities are getting wind of this, and they could possibly come here also. I’ve spoken to private landowners, local communities, and farmers, and I’ve told them we all stand as one here,” Genaille said.
Manitoba highway workers dropped off road signs for Sapotaweyak to alert passing traffic of the occupation, and RCMP visited the main site of the occupation Saturday, the chief said. Sapotaweyak is located 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.