United Nations expresses concern about impact of pandemic on Indigenous peoples as First Nations block dam site in Canada

Published by Brent Patterson on

On Monday May 18, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, José Francisco Cali Tzay, a Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, stated: “Now, more than ever, Governments worldwide should support indigenous peoples to implement their own plans to protect their communities and participate in the elaboration of nationwide initiatives to ensure these do not discriminate against them.”

The Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Anne Nuorgam, has also noted that Indigenous peoples are “at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies” and that in response some are “sealing off their territories”.

On Friday May 15, the Tataskweyak Cree Nation set up a blockade on an access road to the construction site for Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask dam on Treaty 5 territory. The Fox Lake Cree Nation had also set up a blockade.

They did so in order to stop a shift change that would replace the 600 workers who have been on site during the pandemic with 1,000 workers from Canada and the United States.

By Monday May 18 the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench issued an injunction ordering the blockade removed.

The Tataskweyak blockade is still in place as of Wednesday May 20.

CTV now reports, “RCMP announced it will be serving an injunction order Wednesday evening to Tataskweyak Cree Nation members who have formed a blockade at the Keeyask Power Generating Station and on PR 280.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee has commented, “Corporate interests do not trump the safety of First Nations peoples in Northern Manitoba.” Chief Doreen Spence of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation has also stated: “First Nations have undertaken many actions to restrict the transmission of COVID-19, including closing our borders to ensure our communities are safe.”

The Fox Lake Cree Nation and the Tataskweyak Cree Nation are partners in the construction of this dam. The other two partners – War Lake First Nation and York Factory First Nation – have also called on the Province of Manitoba to respect the concerns being expressed about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic through this shift change.

The dam is being built on the Nelson River 730 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba. It will flood 93 square kilometres of boreal taiga lands and destroy spawning areas for fish and result in habitat loss for caribou, moose and beaver.

Manitoba Hydro has paid $169 million to First Nations who will be impacted by the dam and it is expected it will pay out another $100 million.

Construction on the dam (that could cost up to $10.5 billion to build) began in July 2014 and it is expected to be in service by August 2021.

On April 16, Peace Brigades International-Canada signed a civil society statement that called on the government to ensure that Indigenous knowledge-keepers are active participants in bodies established by the government to coordinate responses to the pandemic.

Photo by Nathan Neckoway.

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