ARCHIVED - An Electrifying Partnership: Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Manitoba Hydro

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A major partnership with Manitoba Hydro is the key to the future of one northern First Nation.

Night view of the Intake, looking south.
(Photo by: Wuskatim Power Limited Partnership)

"This is one of the biggest projects that NCN has ever undertaken in our history. Wuskwatim is important for the survival of our nation," said Councillor Marcel Moody of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN), who has been involved in the project since the dam was first discussed in the late nineties.

The Wuskwatim Generating Station is a $1.6 billion project that will provide power to Manitoba Hydro for both the domestic load and export market purposes. The 200-megawatt generating station is located on the Burntwood River in NCN's traditional territory in northern Manitoba.

Looking south across the Intake at Taskinigup Falls.
(Photo by: Wuskatim Power Limited Partnership)

In 2009 INAC contributed $3 million to the Taskinigahp Power Corporation, owned by NCN, to help it partner with a hydroelectric project. In order to assist with the purchase of partnership units INAC contributed an additional $1 million in March 2010. These funds were then matched by the First Nation, and the corporation now holds a 15 per cent equity share in the project, with plans to acquire a 33 per cent share by the time it is operational in 2012.

The project is an historic agreement — it is the first time Manitoba Hydro has entered into an equity partnership with a First Nation community on a generating station project. It has taken nearly a decade of planning, studies and negotiation between Manitoba Hydro and the community. Over its six-year construction period, it will create 800 jobs. An environmental assessment that was conducted included traditional knowledge from Elders of the community to better understand potential impacts on the community and its surroundings.

According to the project website, the dam will cause less than one-half of one square kilometre of flooding, the least amount of flooding of any Manitoba Hydro project in the province.

"It has been hard in the past to see corporations come to our territory and leave nothing but a legacy of distrust after extracting our resources," said Councillor Moody. "Hopefully with this relationship with Manitoba Hydro we can prove to the world that partnerships work with First Nations."

Installation of formwork for the lower cone of Unit 2.
(Photo by: Wuskatim Power Limited Partnership)

Like any business arrangement, it has had its ups and downs, but overall the partnership between NCN and Manitoba Hydro has grown and benefited both parties, said the councillor, who has held the Wuskwatim portfolio for the past four years for Chief and Council.  

Band members have been employed in the project in various capacities, mainly in the initial build of the camp and in catering and security. But for NCN, this project is so much more than a business deal. "We want to show the country that Aboriginal communities need to partner with corporations for both parties to benefit," Councillor Moody said. NCN will benefit from sustained project revenues that can be reinvested in the community. "My goal is that we're going to be independent. We want to control our own destiny."

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