FARMINGTON, Maine — The speakers clicked through slideshows filled with pictures of slushy ice, murky water and thick swaths of mud populated by ripped-up trees.
As members of indigenous tribes in the Manitoba and Labrador regions of Canada, they each told similar stories to the audience gathered at the University of Maine at Farmington on Monday about how their homes were altered after one of the country’s government-owned companies built massive dams on rivers central to their lifestyles.
The speakers were touring with the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance, a group that opposes major hydropower dams and corridors, to whip up resistance to Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile transmission line to bring Hydro-Quebec power through western Maine to the regional grid by showing how massive dams in other regions of Canada affected them.
Carlton Richards, from the Pimicikamak Territory in Cross Lake, Manitoba, spoke about how the fishing and hunting lands of his family have been eroded by rising and falling waters due to Manitoba Hydro’s dams. The Manitoba government acknowledged those impacts in 2015.
The disruptions not only changed the land and wildlife of his home, but also eroded the water burial grounds of his ancestors, Richards said.
“They do damage to our lands,” he said, referring to the power company’s dams. “Not just our lands, but to our people as well.”
The conversation around Canada’s indigenous peoples and hydropower is complex and nothing new. But it’s the first time that conversation has been brought to Maine and it comes as a campaign to put an item aimed at killing CMP’s project to a referendum in 2020 ramps up.
The tour has passed through New York — where a project similar to CMP’s is pending — and Massachusetts before stopping in Portland on Sunday and Augusta and Farmington on Monday. They are supported by groups opposing CMP’s project, including Say No to NECEC, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club.
Meg Sheehan, a coordinator for Megadam Resistance, said the group is trying to counter the narrative” that large-scale hydropower “is clean and green energy.”
It’s similar to a strategy that the Pessamit Innu, an indigenous tribe from Northern Quebec, followed during conversations about the Northern Pass, a similar transmission line project that was proposed in New Hampshire.
That proposal, spearheaded by New Hampshire’s Eversource and Hydro-Quebec — the same company involved in CMP’s project — was ultimately struck down in 2018 by a New Hampshire committee that ruled it was not in the public’s interest. That ruling was upheld by the state’s high court. Massachusetts, which is leading a major green-power acquisition, moved on to Maine.
The Pessamit were not consulted when Hydro-Quebec began building dams on their territory in the 1950s and 1960s, and their campaign in New Hampshire was meant to draw attention to the impact the company’s dams have had on their traditional salmon fishing lands, according to NHPR. The parties have signed agreements and Hydro-Quebec has paid millions of dollars to the Pessamit, but friction remains, and a 1998 lawsuit against the province asking for $11 billion in damages is unresolved.
Hydro-Quebec spokesperson Gary Sutherland was critical of the tour, saying in an email the company has “serious questions” about the Megadam Resistance “speaking on the behalf of Quebec indigenous groups.” He pointed to efforts the company has made to partner with groups over the last 40 years and a new policy aiming to include more indigenous perspectives during the life cycles of its projects. CMP referred comment to Hydro-Quebec.
Sheehan pushed back, saying the impact from megadams across the country are “all the same.” Amy Norman, an Inuit from the Labrador region, said Mainers will be tied to the dams because of the line’s route through the state, even though energy will be sold regionally.
“That makes you complicit,” she said. “That makes you complicit in the cultural genocide of my people.”