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Photos courtesy Churchill River Study Group
The Churchill - a thousand miles of lakes, rivers, forest and rocks Indian people of the north have called home for thousands of years - today the subject of study and debate in anticipation of its development.
Southern Canada, greedy for resources, power, water and playgrounds, is turning its gaze north and in Saskatchewan during the 70's its major focus will be the Churchill.
Under consideration are plans to dam the river and build hydroelectric power stations to meet the electrical power demands of southern Saskatchewan, and plans to divert water from the northern river to the dryer grain belt.
Also being considered are plans to name areas of the river national or provincial parks, a rugged playground for a North America that is fast running out of wilderness.
Only, plans at the moment, but decisions are expected within the decade. The Saskatchewan Power Corporation has already submitted a proposal for a hydroelectric project on the Churchill and preliminary studies have been made of ways and means of diverting northern waters to the south.
The North - and it starts just north of Prince Albert - has been a forgotten land. It has been subjected to only a little tourism, some lumbering and a bit of mining. A land of enormous resource potential, it has not yet been necessary of convenient to exploit it.
North American society, however as it is on growth, and, expansion, needs continuing supplies of materials and power, and northern Canada is now one of the last places on the continent where these exist in abundance.
Already North America uses or controls about four-fifths of the world's resources and the North American standard is one which the rest of the world is rushing to catch up to.
Resource development decisions made now will set the tone for the furious development that is certain to take place in the north over the next quarter century, and what happens to the Churchill will be clear indication of what will be repeated throughout northern Canada.
What happens to, the Indian and Metis
The signs are clear - the white man intends to reshape the north in his image. On the north shore of the Arctic Ocean, Inuit territory, oil exploration is proceeding at a furious pace. The oil is there; some has been found and more will be identified eventually and when it is, it will be moved south. The best route south is down the MacKenzie Valley and plans are proceeding for either a pipeline or railway there. In northern Quebec, the provincial government is proceeding with a hydro-electrical project that will affect the environment of four-fifths of the James Bay peninsula. Growing world demand for paper products is forcing expansion of the pulp industry. In Saskatchewan, the Prince Albert Pulp Company already controls timber rights north of the Churchill and huge blocks of
timber are being reserved in anticipation of a giant pulp mill in the Meadow Lake area.
The following letter was sent to the director of the provincial govenments Churchill River Basin Study Group Aug. 13 by Phil Morin, district representative for the Prince Albert district Chiefs.
The Indian Bands of Lac La Ronge and Peter Ballantyne have stated that they do not wish to participate with the Socio/Economic Sector Of The Churchill River Basin Study.
This means that no member of the Socio/Economic Sector may enter the following reserves to carry out research or hold consultation meetings:
Lac La Ronge Pelican Narrows Stanley Mission Southend Sucker River Otter Lake
The Indian bands have made numerous representations to the board and to the governments for a more meaningful participation than is prescribed within the Churchhill River Basin Study regulations. So far very little headway has been achieved and until the bands get a more satisfactory answer they have decided not to allow any researchof any kind within teir reserves and also have instructed other agencies of government not to dispense information pertaining to thier reserve.
Please advise your associates accordingly.
Embarrassed by their treatment of Native peoples in the past, governments are professing a willingness to temper development of the north with consideration for the people living there, but there is growing evidence of the shallowness of their intentions.
In the Northwest Territories, where Indian title to huge blocks of land, some of which the MacKenzie pipeline will cross, have never been ceded, Jean Chretien, the minister of the Department of Indian Affairs, sat down across the bargaining table from Indians. The minister of Indian Affairs is minister of Northern Development as well, and in this instance, it was clear which side he was taking. Environmental concern forced a halt to off-shore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, but drilling, with the blessing of Mr. Chretien, continues from off-shore artificial islands even though an oil-spill from such islands would be as disastrous as any other. Indians in the James Bay peninsula won a court injunction forbidding work proceeding on the provincial government's hydro project, but the area was simply sealed off to outside viewers and work continued.
Saskatchewan has seen the birth of the Department of Northern Saskatchewan, touted as the vehicle by which northern residents would finally become part of the political and economic mainstream of the province, but their two years experience now have convinced northern residents that the department is responsive to Regina and not themselves. Increasingly the department is being seen as a means of taking political control of the north in order to exploit it for the benefit of the south.
Announcement that hydro-electric projects were being considered for the Churchill were immediately followed by announcements that the provincial government would undertake in-depth studies of its environmental and social implications, a study in which northern residents would play a key role. Recently however, the head of the public participation section of the study resigned saying the government was showing_ contempt for the people of the north. The government thought little of the skills and abilities of-the people and offered them only "an offended, noble savage role," he said.
Out of $2.5 million set aside for the Churchill River Study, - the Northerner's Missinipi committee was given only $27,000 to research their own concerns. With high transportation and other costs in the north, one
meeting of the committee can cost over a thousand dollars.
The stake of Native peoples in the Churchill basin is enormous. Treaty Indians alone make up more than 27 per cent of the Churchill basin's population. The Churchill rich with wildlife, is a major east-west transportation route and has been occupied since pre-historic times by the Indian people. Its significance to the Indians of Saskatchewan is seen in the fact that half the province's reserves are located in the river basin.
Until recently the Indian had the Churchill pretty much to himself. With abundant fish and fur resources, a livelihood was possible and the people could be proud of their forest and river skills. Living along the Churchill, it was possible to continue the way of life that has been the Indian's for thousands of years. It wasn't until after the Second World War that all-weather transportation routes and minor industry came into the north.
The post-war growth of industry in the north, however had few benefits in it for Native people. Mining and forestry had few jobs for Indian and Metis people other than as labourers during the construction phase.
The tourist industry owned and operated by non-residents simply brings in hunters to compete with the Indian for the available game and provides few jobs except as guides and cooks. Native people are often subjected to such indignities as signs in tourist facilities urging guests not to give liquor to the Native people.
Although industry does create some employment during its construction stage, it has few permanent jobs for, the northerner. Because of the sporatic nature of the employment it creates, industry usually has a disruptive and detrimental effect on northern communities.
In the case of hydroelectric dams being built on the Churchill, manpower requirements would reach a peak of about 1,250 persons during the construction stage, yet permanent employment would be created for only about 15 people, and those would be skilled technicians.
Of all the projects under consideration for northern Saskatchewan, none have originated with the northern residents themselves. All were conceived to fulfill needs apparent in the south and the evidence supports the
Peter Linklater, 73, has been a trapper, guide and commercial fisherman in the Churchill Basin all his life. A Treaty Indian, Mr. Linklater lives at Pelican Narrows.
Mr. Linklater is convinced the construction of dams on the Churchill is going to have disastrous effects on wildlife in the area. His opinion is based on his experience with the hydroelectric dam built at Island Falls in the 1920's.
"You see they put a dam at Island Falls. We used to get 500 rats every spring, but, since they put in that dam, we're lucky if we get 50."
"This Island Falls dam, before they built it, there used to be quite a few ducks up there, but since then there is not too many, not like there used to be. The way I think myself, I've been in the bush all my life, it seems to me the birds are down, down, down. There used to be lots, but I think they go someplace else. I think it hurt quite a bit, that Island Falls dam."
"In a few years the beaver come back, but not the others, not the muskrat, forget about the muskrat."
"My boys, I have four of them, they've got jobs- but not full time. I want them to trap too. If they put a dam there I don't think they'll be able to trap."
"That dam at Island Falls, they put it there and it's not too bad. But this dam put in at Reindeer Lake, that's the one that hurt the trapper."
Philip Ratt, of Pelican Narrows is chairman of the Missinipi Committee, a group composed of northern residents who have been attempting, to make their own studies of possible developments on the Churchill. The group has been frustrated in much of its effort because it cannot get adequate funding from the government.
Mr. Raft says one of the group's projects "is to get as many interviews as possible with the older people. Particularly the ones that experienced the flood of Island Falls and Reindeer Lake."
"I'm quite certain our study will be better than the government's. We're not competing with them though, we're simply trying to help the government with a better and true report."
"I read the report of the wildlife sector of the government's study and these people were obviously university graduates and they based a lot of that report on theoretical knowledge . . . from my own experience I know it's wrong."
"There's the mention of beaver, that it is not going to effect them, but I know the area and if they flood the land, then it's going to be mostly Jackpine that's left and the beaver just don't live under these conditions."
"There is also the matter of water lillies, the underwater plants the beaver live on. These will be flooded out and it's going to take a good number of years before they reproduce again."
"The muskrat will be wiped out totally. Muskrat have to live in certain depth of water, and in a reservoir they will never survive especially when the water is going to fluctuate."
"It's going to eliminate the trapline and it's going to eliminate the commercial fishing, so the two main sources of income we have now will be all gone."
Promises were made almost two years ago when studies of the Churchill were announced that Indian people would be aided in undertaking, their own studies, yet at the June All-Chiefs conference delegates were forced to pass a resolution once again calling on governments for the funds necessary to examine the project in detail.
Since the Indian's Treaty Rights to hunting and fishing will almost certainly be affected by any developments on the Churchill, the northern Chiefs want to keep their people informed and ensure their interests are protected. All of the proposed schemes for the Churchill have the potential for disastrous consequences to the northern Indian's life style and his environment.
Currently there are three schemes under consideration, each of which would have a major impact on the quality of life in the Churchill basin.
More than 77,000 square miles would be affected by the Sask. Power Corporation's proposed hydroelectric project on the Churchill. Plans call for a dam to be built at Iskwatum and Pita Lakes, east of the junction of the Reindeer River with the Churchill. A reservoir of about 2,180 square miles backing up 230 miles to Reindeer Lake would be created.
The greatest impact for Indians in the area will probably result from fluctuating levels on Reindeer Lake. Water levels on the lake could be raised 2.6 feet allowing annual fluctuations of more than 11 feet and there are well-founded fears that the floating debris which would result could be a hazard to the commercial fishing boats that ply the lake.
Fish and animal populations could also be affected as a result of disruption in breeding grounds, with drastic consequences for the commercial fishermen and trappers.
Several important historic sites would also be wiped out by the floodwaters created by the dam, including Frog Portage. Located at the junction between the Churchill and the Reindeer Rivers, Frog Portage has long been a resting and meeting place for Indians plying the river, and is rich in archaeological and historical material. Also destroyed would be several examples of Indian paintings on rock walls along the river's edge and prehistoric campsites, kill sites and quarries.
There is also talk of naming either portions of the river or the Saskatchewan Section from Peter Pond to the Manitoba border a park.
The Churchill has a reputation of being the best white-water canoeing river in North American and several groups, including the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, have suggested it be preserved as a park. Saskatchewan Natural Resources Minister Eiling Kramer says the historical, scenic and recreational potential of the river warrants it being named a national park.
Designation as a national park would add to the river's potential to attract tourists, but park policy is to prohibit all commercial development and activity within a park.
Activities curtailed in a national park include commercial fishing, hunting, trapping and outfitting. In other words, the Indian's rights to hunt and fish in an area is finished when the land is picked as a national park.
Many observers do not preclude the possibility of both hydroelectric dams and national parks along the Churchill, an event that would be a double whammy for Indian people.
Another scheme envisions diverting waters from the Churchill to the southern part of the province. The possibilities of making the Churchill a donor of waters was investigated by the recent Sask.-Nelson Basin Study. Several diversion possibilities were identified. One at Frog Portage would divert waters to the Sturgeon-Weir River. Its estimated cost is about $55 million. A second possibility is to raise the waters of Cree Lake a few feet to link it with the Gwillim and Mudjatik Rivers and let gravity carry the water south.
Waters in the Churchill could be replenished if need be, the study found, if the Clearwater River was diverted through Turner Lake into the Churchill.
No attempt was made during the Saskatchewan Nelson Basin Study to evaluate environmental effects of the diversion schemes, but it is assumed their impact on the ecology of the area would be major.
The possibility of diversions from the Churchill is a very real one since heavy consumption of waters in the South Saskatchewan River could force the province to divert northern waters to that river, because Saskatchewan is bound by agreement to pass on a fixed proportion of the South Saskatchewan's waters, to Manitoba. Although diversion of wasters from the Churchill would limit its hydroelectric potential, the preliminary studies indicate that the two schemes are not necessarily incompatible.