Threads - Hydro over troubled waters

Manitoba — Jun 2023

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A man driving a boat
Traveling troubled water before Manitoba hydro flooded Southern Indian Lake—as part of the massive Churchill River Diversion—it was home to the second largest whitefish fishery in North America. It was also home to the thriving Cree community into which fisherman Les Dysart, pictured, was born. Interfaith Council on Hydropower / Will Braun

Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge talks to Amanda Layton and Erin Neufeld, part of the Interfaith Council on Hydropower and discusses the realities of hydropower's impact in Norther Manitoba.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month.

Audio file

Audio Transcription:

Kyle Rudge (00:02):

It begins with a single thread woven through other thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I did not grow up in Winnipeg. I grew up in Gillam, Manitoba, think Thompson, Manitoba, which is already eight hours north, but keep going north on the Nelson River for four more hours. And when that road runs out, you are in Gillam. Like most people there, my father worked for Manitoba Hydro, and throughout most of my life, I've held on to the belief that it's clean, renewable energy and something truly to be proud of as a Manitoban. However, I've learned that's not the whole story. Now, before we go any further, given our current social climate, we could be quick to assume that it's all boycott this and shut down that, but for this, that's not where we're headed.

Erin Neufeld (01:34):

You know, it doesn't have to be hydro or no hydro. I think it's finding a way to find a compromising middle that, like Amanda said, that why can we not just let through a little bit more water right? It is because of scarcity of those of us in the south and not being able to have what we believe we need.

Kyle Rudge (01:52):

There are amicable, profitable, and clean ways forward. But first we'll have to look at the obstacles and challenges for us to get there. I spoke to two members of the Interfaith Council on Hydropower, or ICH, as they will often refer to themselves. Its mission is in part to help the faith community take part in the public debate on hydro development in Manitoba to pursue and maintain relationships of trust with indigenous peoples and to be advocates of fairness, integrity, and resource sustainability.

Erin Neufeld (02:24):

My name is Erin Neufeld. I'm a contractor in research and development in partnership with Northern First Nations. I'm primarily located in southern Manitoba in Cooks Creek, Manitoba. But I do most of my work in partnership with nations that are in Treaty Five. For those who may not know, Treaty Five is kind of northern central Manitoba. It does kind of loop around Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, kind of on a slight angle. But for the most part it's five hours north.

Kyle Rudge (03:00):

Erin wasn't the only person we interviewed.

Amanda Layton (03:02):

Yeah, I'm Amanda Layton. I am out of Winnipeg Treaty One, and my position on the Interfaith Council and Hydropower is I'm a volunteer. I've been with them for about eight years but only in the last maybe four or five have I had more time to, to give to it. So a lot of that work is advocacy to some places like the Public Utilities Board and the Manitoba government. But also we work hard to build relationships in northern Manitoba.

Kyle Rudge (03:34):

It should be noted that ICH is a volunteer driven organization. It's driven by passion and supported by places like Mennonite Central Committee and several other faith-based organizations and generous individuals. Neither Amanda nor Erin are indigenous themselves, but their desire for indigenous people's justice was abundant.

Erin Neufeld (03:54):

I grew up in kind of north end, west Kildonan area, and my parents were very busy working as most parents are <laugh>. And I was a very troublesome rebellious youth, and so I'm very fortunate. My youth leader actually, her name is Kelly Speak, through Christ Lutheran Church at the time. She would pick me up from school, and I still remember this, she would pick me up from school and we would go to the different food banks and then the different - we used to have, Trinity Lutheran used to have like a clothing full clothing and food bank. And so she'd take me there once a week for several weeks. And, and I think that's really where I started to listen and learn from indigenous folks in the community that were coming into these different places. And then it just continued on from there. You know, I met friends in university. I tried to volunteer with different groups throughout the North end that were close to home. And so I think that's really what sparked kind of wanting to unlearn and relearn to better understand how our world works from a different view.

Amanda Layton (05:05):

So I grew up rural Manitoba farm, you know, close to Brandon. Always connected to that place. Spent tons of my childhood just wandering, well on foot and then got a dirt bike, so on a dirt bike. And just kind of, I, I wouldn't have ever identified it as like learning the land, but I look back on it as I know that place really well and always felt really connected. And you know, just down the, the road from us close to highway one, there's a teacher that lived on what she said was a buffalo jump. So that's what they called it back then. And, and there was some other stories from my childhood that kind of piqued my interest, or at least just kind of helped me know that there were people there before me or before us.

But never, never really talked about. And, and no history was ever taught to me on that. So at a young age, I was curious, but not pursuing anything. When I graduated from high school, I moved to Winnipeg. I didn't really have like a ton of direction. I didn't go post-secondary. But I moved to the north end and did like this one year program that was called the school of justice. It was through that, that we had a speaker come and tell us about I think it was called the Interfaith Task Force at the time. But it was just a different iteration of what we're a part of now. And they exposed me to Manitoba Hydro's “work”. There's some quotations on that work, everybody. Yeah, it's when, when I learned that, that there was like real negative impact of our electricity in the north.

Kyle Rudge (06:51):

I'm turning 42 this year, and it was only a couple of years ago when I was presented with the possibility that maybe the peaches and roses of hydro that I intrinsically believed was perhaps skewed and not the entire story. I asked both Amanda and Erin regarding some misconceptions that I had or might even still have as it pertains to hydropower in Manitoba.

Amanda Layton (07:13):

Yeah, well, the advertising of clean energy, like that Manitoba hydro has maintained like really maintained and continues to say to this day that it's clean energy. I mean, it gets complicated a little bit because it's not you know, putting out carbon emissions like a coal plant would, so comparatively, I suppose. But if, like Erin has said, if you go there, you can see immediately that this is not clean. The, the river banks are falling into the water. The water is not clean looking. It's very, very green, very thick, very you know, undrinkable, when at one point it was drinkable and the people who lived there drank the water and no longer can, they used to swim in the water and they probably still do a little bit, but there's lots of stories of skin issues just from going in the water.

New Speaker (08:07):

Um so it's just not true, not even close to being true. And the more dams that we put on those rivers, the dirtier and more polluted it gets if you visit, you can see it. But southern Manitoba doesn't have to. And so there's a newish term environmental racism. It's not that new, but it, it feels probably new to most southerners where if you know it's outta sight outta mind, it's, it's no different than where our food comes from, where our clothes come from, where water comes from where our electricity comes from, matters just as much. Especially the impact on the people who live around. Yeah, some of the obstacles are, well, money, bottom lines, and that scarcity mentality that if we don't if we don't store up as much as possible, we might run out and that's a problem. And then I think like the, just the distance between I had mentioned it before, but the distance between the people at the top who make the policies and decisions and the people who are personally impacted is too great, and we need to close that gap.

Kyle Rudge (09:12):

I pushed a little further and asked for some stories. What's something I wouldn't know or I wouldn't ever have been taught?

Erin Neufeld (09:19):

So South Indian Lake was the, I think the number two producer in all of North America for whitefish population like pre 1960s. Hydro took their pristine lake and turned it into a swamp, and they have not been able to recover the fish populations not even nearly close to what they were before. To the point where hydro has tried repopulating with many of the different, and again, I'm not a science person, I apologize to anyone listening to this that knows science. But the way that they try to repopulate the fish populations hydro has tried for a decade and has failed to bring back a fish population, I think even to a fifth of what it was before. So, I mean, we're told that it's renewable energy, but I mean, South Indian Lake was one of the 10th or 12th largest lakes in all of Canada, and it's now probably the largest swamp in the world.

Kyle Rudge (10:17):

Here's where the challenge comes. We need electricity in today's society. We can't just abandon hydropower and switch to something else. So what do we do then? Is there an amicable way forward?

Amanda Layton (10:30):

Yeah, I think there is an amicable way forward. I mean, the first one is prior informed consent and, and meaningful engagement with communities who actually live in and around where new dams are going up or where current dams exist. There hasn't been that though we talk about it, but that has never looked like meaningful conversation, meaningful engagement with northern communities and the people that actually use and live on and rely on the water and the land.

Erin Neufeld (11:03):

There's also so many types of different technology. You know, we have so much technology now, and hydro knows of different ways like fish ladders and different systems that they can implement into all of their dams, but they have to want to do that. And I think they have done that in some places, but in many places they haven't. And so there are ways to, you know, it doesn't have to be hydro or no hydro, I think it's, it's finding a way to find a compromising middle that, like Amanda said, that why can we not just let through a little bit more water, right? It is because of scarcity of those of us in the south and not being able to have what we believe we need and what we deserve, right? And so I think if we could find, and if hydro were to implement more of its sustainable solutions and actually listen to the First Nations that it works with.

Kyle Rudge (11:59):

Often in conversations with passionate people, I catch their vision. I feel empowered to do something, but I often don't know what I can do. How do I help? There's only so many causes, so much time and so much money, and it's tough for all of us. Their suggestion, their first suggestion was education.

Erin Neufeld (12:20):

Read the actual post on social media. If you see a letter writing campaign and you agree with it, write the letter. I mean, half of those groups, I myself partake in them. You can literally, some of them you just post your name in there and then you can copy and paste and send it. It's not that hard. So I think that we just need to choose to want to educate ourselves on that stuff. If you listen to this podcast, go Google some of these topics. Google South Indian Lake. Just Google, learn and choose to challenge your own mind and your own preconceived views of these things to better understand.

Kyle Rudge (13:01):

Their second suggestion was to put a sturgeon on a hydro poll.

Amanda Layton (13:05):

We have a sturgeon marking project that where we're putting sturgeon on hydro poles. And so there's a website you can go to and it's just like, it could be a fun afternoon where you make a stencil, get some paint and go out and, and put those sturgeon on poles as a reminder to yourself, to your neighbors, that this is our hydro impacts much more than just us. It's not just a benefit. There is a negative too. And so that connection, like the hope there is just, it's just a reminder. It's just a connection that there is something happening on the other, other end of the line.

Kyle Rudge (13:43):

For more information about ICH, visit their website on or email them at They'll be happy to have a conversation and coffee with you if you are interested. MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance by Jason Dueck and Kerry Saner-Harvey. Thank you to Erin and Amanda for sharing your incredible passion for the cause and desire for peace and justice here in our own province of Manitoba. May we find that amicable way forward that is healing, whole and powerful for all of us. I'm Kyle Rudge, and this is MCC Threads.

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