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Lucien Wabanonik is an elected councillor with Lac Simon’s band council in Quebec. He previously served as Lac Simon’s Chief and as Grand Chief of the Anishnabeg Nation Tribal Council.
Hydro-Quebec (HQ) has waged a well-funded PR campaign in Maine to convince voters that their hydropower is “clean,” but the generation of this power has cost my people everything. So as the people of Maine weigh the merits of Central Maine Power’s proposed NECEC corridor project, which will bring power from Quebec to New England, to fulfill a contract with Massachusetts, I implore you to consider the systemic racism my people, the Anishnabegs, as well as the Pessamit Innu First Nation and Wemotaci Atikamekw First Nation, are experiencing at the hands of HQ, and the provincial government, which solely owns the company.
Our people have been connected to our land for more than 8,000 years and for much of that time, we lived in harmony with the land, which sustained our families. In 1763, King George III signed the Royal Proclamation that established the first borders of Quebec as well as the rights of First Nations.
From then, life went on until the advance of hydro-dams, which are now owned and operated by HQ. The company makes billions of dollars in profits each year off their illegitimate occupation and use of our land; profits which are largely passed along to the provincial government to benefit non-Indigenous populations. This profit-sharing arrangement has perpetuated the ongoing violation of our basic human rights.
Many steps have been taken to right these wrongs, but thus far, HQ has eluded them all. The Canadian Constitution recognized our ancestral and treaty rights since 1982. In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled against Quebec’s failure to recognize our constitutional rights.
But to this day, the abusive and lucrative crusade against my people wages on. HQ’s appetite for profit seems insatiable, as they aim to double their profits by 2030 by entering into agreements like the New England Clean Energy Connect to export power to consumers in your country. Unfortunately, their plan doesn’t include an agreement with the people who rightfully own the land they’ve destroyed to make this goal a reality.
As I write this today, there are 33 hydroelectric plants, 130 dams and dykes, 2.6 million acres of reservoirs, tens of thousands of kilometers of transmission and distribution lines and roads illegitimately operating on our ancestral territories. Hydro-Quebec doesn’t rightfully own 36% of its total installed electrical capacity, yet we’ve never been compensated for this massive taking.
These dams and their associated infrastructure have robbed us, not only of our resources, but also of our culture and our way of life, which is no longer sustainable. HQ has devastated our socioeconomic balance. Instead, we live an idle life of deep poverty reliant on social transfer payments.
Their dams and infrastructure have made food difficult to secure, shifting migratory patterns for key game animals. Fish cannot make it up the rivers to spawn and animals avoid the loud and disruptive hum put off by the high-voltage transmission lines like the ones included in the NECEC project. The methylmercury emitted by all of the flooded acreage has poisoned the fish and our people who must eat them to survive, and areas we traditionally called “home” are now underwater.
The waterways we have relied on for transportation for centuries are now nearly impossible to navigate. During winter, our lives are regularly put in jeopardy by HQ, which raises and lowers water levels on the waterways we must cross on snowmobiles without warning or communication to our tribes. We never know if the ice is safe, but we must cross it anyway.
While the non-Indigenous majority profits off of HQ’s illegitimate dealings, our people suffer, with our well-being indicators now comparable to those of third world countries. We are forced to live in deplorable conditions of poverty, and our suicide rate is five to seven times higher than the rest of Quebec. The Kitcisakik Tribe is situated at the foot of one of HQ’s dams, yet they have no access to electricity, running water or wastewater management infrastructure.
HQ’s practices are a holdout from another time, and they have created two distinct classes of citizens within the province. It’s time for the governments to take a stand by acknowledging their mistreatment of our people and to take immediate action to respect our constitutional rights, and more importantly, our rights as human beings.
It is my hope that this column will help the people of Maine understand our situation, as there will be a vote on the NECEC issue in Maine this year. Our governments haven’t done right by us, so our fate is now in your hands.