“Why would you release fish into a body of water that can’t sustain them?” A community-based experience on the environmental health impacts of hydro dams in O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, Manitoba

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Beta, Gerald
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This project emerged as an opportunity to document Indigenous knowledge and strength-based solutions to address the environmental and health impacts of hydroelectric dam projects in the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation. As documented in the pages that follow, Hydro dams adversely affected local food production in these communities in particular traditional hunting and trapping grounds, fisheries were devasted, water quality was impaired, and shorelines were eroded. Members of OPCN have shared stories and narratives about the ways they have experienced the health impacts of hydro dams such as diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and skin diseases that emerged when hydroelectric projects entered the OPCN territory. This thesis was a collaborative research with a hydroelectric dam-impacted community, OPCN. The research objective was to provide an opportunity for the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation (OPCN) community members to document their hydro dam experiences. The research aimed to understand the spatial temporal implications of hydroelectric dam projects in Northern Cree communities before and after hydroelectric dam operations, and how communities experienced the changes in their environment. The research used qualitative research methods to achieve the research goals. Qualitative methods are used here as narrative-based methods and in this thesis, they were undertaken through interviews with Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Users, Fishers, Hunters and Trappers in OPCN. According to OPCN community members' experiences, the cumulative impacts of hydroelectric dams’ increased health and well-being problems. These cumulative impacts have been voiced by the OPCN community through different platforms such as social media, newspapers, conferences and recently at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held on the 17th of April up to the 28th of April 2023 in New York, USA. The 2023 UNPFII theme was focused on “Indigenous Peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health and climate change: a rights-based approach.” (Cultural Survival, 2023). This thesis will document community experience and perspectives on the environmental health impacts of hydroelectric dams and present the impacts to non-community members, and decision-makers including governments, and it will highlight collective solutions used to address such impacts. The maps in this thesis will help communities to understand the changes brought by hydroelectric dam projects on the environment such as changes in land use and flooding. Location-based narratives presented in ArcGIS Storymaps (A web-based digital platform that integrates text, pictures, videos, audio, maps and legends to help users explore the content (Esri Documentation, n.d.)) will help non-community members understand community members' experiences. This thesis is part of a larger, Indigenous-led project, Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities, and Kitatipithimak Mithwayawin which are working to increase awareness of hydro impacts.
Flooding, Churchill River Diversion, Environmental health, GIS and Remote Sensing, Two-eyed seeing research, Participatory GIS mapping, Community-led project