Lac Seul First Nation has decided not to support construction of a hydro-electric power plant at Big Falls on the Trout River, after concerns were raised by a number of local residents over the effects a dam would have on the area’s cultural heritage.
The First Nation’s change in position comes after Lac Seul had originally agreed to partner on the three to four megawatt hydro dam with Horizon Energy, and potentially Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabauskang First Nation.
Lac Seul Chief Clifford Bull and his council met with officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) on May 7 to convey the First Nation’s stance.
“We want to tell the government that perhaps we can do other things with the river system,” Bull told Wawatay following the meeting on May 7. “Perhaps we can make it into a heritage water park. There was always a water highway and it has historical value for us and we want to protect that area. We don’t want the development on it at this point in time.”
Lac Seul’s opposition to the project came after band members living in Red Lake expressed their concerns about the dam’s infringement on their rights. Lac Seul chief and council eventually decided to remove themselves from the project in support of the Red Lake members.
“We have actually signed a Band Council Resolution to that effect, unanimously supporting our members from Red Lake that we will stand by them and not support the project at this time,” Bull said. “We are having continued meetings with the MNR and try to mitigate and perhaps air some of the concerns we have.”
Lac Seul member Kaaren Dannenmann, who lives in Red Lake, expressed her concerns that the First Nation was not consulted about the government’s plans for the hydro project until much too late in the process.
“We believe that we should have been consulted before the MNR even did the survey of all the different falls in Ontario that were dam-able,” Dannenmann said. “There was a period of time when the MNR got all that information and then they called for bids to develop this particular falls. That was beginning of their process but we didn’t know about it for a couple of years after that. And I think we found about it rather accidentally.”
Dannenmann added that membership opposed the project right from day one.
“They came up to Red Lake and spoke with us and then we attended their open house in Red Lake and the whole time it was unanimous that we opposed the construction of a dam at Big Falls because of its important cultural significance to our people,” Dannenmann said.
Graeme Swanwick, MNR’s district manager for the Red Lake region, said that the government understands Big Falls is a site of cultural significance and is committed to working with the First Nations on identifying impacts of the project and “adequately and reasonably accommodating those impacts.”
“Concerns have been brought forward to both the proponent and OMNR with respect to how the project impacts the cultural heritage of the site,” Swanwick said. “It is our understanding that this site has cultural significance to the First Nations people of this area. The Crown continues to work with First Nations with rights in the project area to identify impacts of the project and develop means, in concert with the proponent, to adequately and reasonably accommodate those impacts.”
Swanwick added that hydro-power development benefits all Ontarians, and that the current power line infrastructure in the area is at capacity. He also said that local municipalities and First Nations stand to benefit from an increase in employment during the construction phase of the project.
Chief Bull noted that the meeting ended on a positive note, with gifts being exchanged between the First Nation and MNR officials.
“We are not opposed to the development of resources,” Bull said. “What we need to look at is having that healthy blend of resource development and good stewardship. This is what we are striving for. We have to listen to our constituents and when the Elders say to oppose the project we have to listen to them.”