(Protesters gather around a bonfire Thursday night where people from Cross Lake First Nation are occupying a generating station. Photo by Tim Fontaine/APTN)
APTN National News
CROSS LAKE, Man. – A provincial cabinet minister and the head of Manitoba’s power utility will meet with Cree people who have been occupying the grounds of a hydro dam for weeks, Pimicikamak Chief Catherine Merrick says.
A small group has been occupying the grounds of the Jenpeg Generating Station since late September, but over the past two days hundreds have joined in. The station is located near the Cree community of Cross Lake, over 700 km north of Winnipeg.
Thursday night, Merrick told the people gathered that a meeting will take place today at 1 p.m. between Pimicikamak leadership, Manitoba Hydro president Scott Thomson and the provincial minister responsible for the utility, Stan Struthers.
No one from either of those offices was available to confirm the meeting.
The occupation is the latest in a long history of disputes between Manitoba Hydro and the Pimicikamak Cree, who say the province has yet to implement the Northern Flood Agreement. The NFA is supposed to compensate northern First Nations effected by hydro development.
The Jenpeg generating station, which cost $310 million to build in the 1970s, is a key element in Manitoba Hydro’s northern electricity generation. The dam is used to help regulate the level of Lake Winnipeg, which has become swollen in recent years due to flooding, and the site also acts as a reservoir for other northern generating stations.
The Pimicikamak also say community members pay high electricity bills. An insult, they say, considering the power is generated on their own lands.
Merrick issued an eviction notice to Manitoba Hydro on October 6, ordering staff to leave the Jenpeg station.
See the eviction notice:
RCMP are at the station and reportedly escorted some staff members off the site Thursday.
Pimicikamak Coun. Darwin Paupanekis told APTN that it’s time governments begin repairing and honouring treaty relations with the Cree, whatever the cost.
Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said some employees were allowed to leave under police escort Thursday, but Manitoba Hydro personnel were not being allowed to enter, he said.
“Our immediate concern is for the safety of our employees who are on site, members of the public and the protesters themselves, obviously because it’s an operating electrical facility,” Powell said. “Our staff are continuing to man both the generating station and staff house using supervisory and security staff.
“We’ve taken measures to secure the physical plant and to maintain operations, not only of the generating plant itself, but also the Lake Winnipeg regulation control works.”
The corporation has been reaching out to the band’s leadership since May for a meeting but to no avail, Powell said.
“The factors underlying the protest are pretty complex and they’ve got a long history. In some cases they involve parties other than Manitoba Hydro and Cross Lake,” Powell said.
“We continue to hope we can resolve the situation as soon as possible to protect the safety of all concerned and the ongoing reliability of Manitoba’s electrical supply.”
– with files from the Canadian Press