The rapids at the site of the Wuskwatim Dam, prior to construction. Photo by Christian Cassidy, 2007
The following is based on a phone interview Will Braun did with former Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Band Councillor Agnes Spence in November 2010. The interview is supplemented with comments by Spence from the 2005 film Where Three Rivers Meet.
Agnes Spence served as an NCN band councillor from 1998 until 2010, which included the seven year period during which NCN negotiated an agreement to partner with Manitoba Hydro on the Wuskwatim Dam. The agreement gives NCN a role in project planning and the option of buying a stake–up to 33 percent–in the $1.3 billion project. Construction of the Wuskwatim Dam is slated for completion in 2012.
Spence is now training for ordination in the United Church.
"I was totally against it to begin with," Agnes Spence says of the Wuskwatim Dam. But that gradually changed. "I had to go on a journey of healing and prayer," Spence says, "before I could accept it." She eventually became a supporter of the dam, saying it offers the "promise of a better life" for her community.
"I have to let go of the past," Spence says in Where Three Rivers Meet, "because if I can't let go.... I would never be able to move forward and we have to try and move forward for the future of our children."
On ceremonies related to construction:
"Everything is important," Spence says, "everything is alive." For this reason, she says traditional ceremonies needed to be done before different phases of development, "like when there's a river crossing."
"We had to do ceremonies and make sure there's a balance," she says. The ceremonies are "a blessing of the ground" and they provide a way to "give thanks to the Creator for [the] land."
Spence says the ceremonies are necessary because "allowing [Wuskwatim] to happen" is a "major offense to creation" and the ceremonies help to "ease the pain."
On the elders and ancestors:
The elders in the community are "totally against it," Spence says of the Wuskwatim project; "we never convinced them."
How does that make her feel? "Honoured," she says, "because they're true to their beliefs." She adds that "the youth know a different life."
In Where Three Rivers Meet, Spence says of her Nisichawayasihk ancestors, "I think what I want is their forgiveness."
On NCN finding money to buy its 33 percent stake in the $1.3 billion project:
When asked if she is worried about her community coming up with the necessary funds Spence says: "No, not at all. Because it was there in the plans. And if they follow the plans there will be no problem."
On using Wuskwatim to produce more electricity for the energy-addicted US:
"If those people in the States don't use our power," Spence says, "they'll destroy the land more by... burning coal...that destroys the ozone layer." Compared to hydro she says, "that will destroy the earth a bit faster."
On ever-increasing demand for energy:
"Conservation is important," Spence says, emphasizing that it is "important to teach children about energy conservation."
She says of hydro power from the north: "It's good, but it's not good to over use it. Then we wouldn't have to build more dams. . . . Building more and more takes away more from the land."
"Every one of us has to be responsible," she says of our energy consumption, because the earth's resources are limited. "In the long run," Spence says, "it will all run out."
On environmentalists who opposed Wuskwatim:
"They don't really care about us, because they're sitting in fancy offices," Spence says. "The First Nations are trying to do something for themselves," she says, and the environmentalists are "totally against it." But she adds that she doesn't "want to sound too harsh to the environmentalists."
On whether hydro is clean:
"Yes, I think hydro is clean," Spence says. "The damage has already been done. There is not more damage now than there was in the '70s and '80s."
– See the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation website.
– See info about Wuskwatim at EnergyManitoba.org.
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