Lucien Wabanonik: My people were robbed, ignored by Hydro-Quebec, Quebec government
As a member of the Anishnabeg tribe, situated in modern-day Quebec, I have great sympathy for the David vs. Goliath situation that is transpiring with Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect corridor project in Maine.
Decades ago the dams and infrastructure owned by Hydro-Quebec, a government-owned corporation, were built on the land of three First Nations tribes in Quebec without consent or compensation. To this day, there is no direct communication between HQ and the impacted communities as it continues to deny us our rights so others can profit off land that is rightfully ours.
In Maine, CMP and HQ are funding an expensive PR campaign to convince voters that NECEC is somehow good for Maine. In reality it’s good for two foreign corporations and Massachusetts, a wealthy and more heavily populated state to the south. In reality Mainers would get very little in return for serving as HQ’s extension cord while others prosper.
An even bigger lie it’s telling is that HQ’s power is “clean” even though the generation of this power has cost my people everything; our heritage, our culture, our way of life and our future.
First Nation Tribes located within Quebec have subsisted off of our lands for more than 8,000 years. Since King George III signed the Royal Proclamation in 1763, our rights and the territory have been established. Our rights have been reaffirmed time and time again by Canadian courts, but unfortunately HQ continues to colonize our territory while ignoring our rights and destroying our resources.
HQ is currently operating 33 hydroelectric plants, 130 dams and dykes, flooding 2.6 million acres, and maintaining tens of thousands of kilometers of transmission and distribution lines and roads on our ancestral territories. It doesn’t rightfully own 36% of its total installed electrical capacity, yet we’ve never been compensated for this massive taking, forced to live as second-rate citizens on our own unceded land, and now HQ wants to export this power to Massachusetts.
Its industrial developments have improved the quality of life for Quebec’s non-Native residents by sharing 75% of profits with the government that owns them, but HQ has yet to give us a penny to make up for the permanent loss of critical resources and the erosion of our culture.
HQ has devastated our socioeconomic balance. Food has become more difficult to secure, as the fish we once relied on for survival cannot make it up the rivers anymore, and the fish that remain were poisoned with methylmercury for decades. The migration patterns of large mammals drastically shifted, as they avoid the fragmentation created by reservoirs and transmission corridors and constant loud hum of the HVDC lines, like the ones the company wants to use on NECEC. The waterways we once relied on to travel around our territory are now difficult to navigate in many places. As a result, we are permanently disconnected from our way of life.
While the non-Indigenous majority profits off of Hydro-Quebec’s illegitimate dealings, our people suffer, and the well-being indicators for our communities are now comparable to those of Third World countries. The Kitcisakik Tribe, for example, is situated at the foot of a Hydro-Quebec dam, yet they have no access to electricity, running water or wastewater management infrastructure. Impacted First Nations are forced to live in deplorable conditions of poverty with a suicide rate that is five to seven times higher than the rest of Quebec’s.
It is sad to say that HQ’s practices are a holdout from another time, and it has created two distinct classes of citizens within the province. Our human rights are being violated, and our people are subjected to systemic racism.
Over the last four decades, the Supreme Court of Canada has made a number of rulings that have made great strides toward righting many of the wrongs that have been inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous populations, but sadly Quebec has resisted these changes, as it profits greatly off of our abuse.
Hydro-Quebec, aided by the government of Quebec, has sacrificed our collective fate for their profits, and now, they want to involve the United States in their immoral dealings by selling Massachusetts electricity they have stolen from us.
Lucien Wabanonik is an elected councilor with Lac Simon’s band council. He previously served as Lac Simon’s chief and as grand chief of the Anishnabeg Nation Tribal Council.