As Long as the Rivers Flow, They'll Try to Dam Them


...They'll try to dam them!

- Lonefighters National Communication Network

- reprinted from Oh-Toh-Kin, Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter/Spring 1992

The Real Watergate

During the late fifties and early sixties, a group of business and government officials had a pipe-dream that Canada being the last haven of clean fresh water, it would be quite feasible to divert the clean, fresh water south to the United States. The initial outcry from the general public was enough to put the project on hold. It is only recently that the US, from exploiting and misusing their water supply and water tables, is now experiencing a crisis within their own country.

In 1964, the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA), was drawn up by the Ralph M. Parsons Company -- an engineering firm in Los Angeles -- to divert massive amounts of Canadian water to the US. In 1965, a letter from the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, to Louis Hamill -- assistant professor of Geography at the University of Alberta -- proves that the federal government was well aware of the NAWAPA plan and its costs and effects on the environment, but it provided a tone that this plan was far from being considered. One only has to look at the various dams and hydro projects and compare them to the "proposed" NAWAPA plan.

To facilitate the diversion of these massive amounts of water would require an international treaty or agreement. This was done by Canada entering into the Free Trade agreement in 1987. In a brief presented to Environment Canada's Rafferty-Alameda Initial Environmental Evaluation in Regina, Saskatchewan on June 22/89, by the Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, it was pointed out that Simon Reisman, Canada's Free Trade negotiator, had said quite candidly that for the US to enter into the Agreement would require elements which would make the deal hard to refuse. And that element would be water. When Prime Minister Mulroney was asked by Fortune magazine about the idea of water exports to the US, he said "Why not?".

The NAWAPA plan has been put back on the table, or perhaps it should be said "under the table". Various hydroelectric and dam projects have raised serious questions about the necessity of these projects. James Bay 2, Rafferty-Alameda, the Oldman River dam, eerily resemble the original outline of NAWAPA plan of the sixties. Each of the provincial governments say that these mega-projects are separate provincial ventures and nothing more.

It's been stated that the three projects could be vital components to the GRAND (Great Recycling and Northern Development) Canal Transfer. The sale of fresh Canadian water to the US is backed by some of the country's top engineering firms. In an article in the Edmonton Journal, Dec. 22/90, Tom Kierans, president and founder of the Grand Canal Co. Ltd., was interviewed where he stated explicitly that the three dam projects "could be integral parts of the jigsaw puzzle". He was the one who conceived the idea of interbasin water transfers back in the 1950s. Kierans points out that the existing projects, such as the Lake Diefenbaker dam built in 1968, and James Bay 1, could all work nicely into a plan of diverting the water south, it's only a matter of turning on the taps. Both of these projects were his creations. To effectively complete the interbasin transfer of water, James Bay 2 and Rafferty-Alameda are essential. He further stated that the diversion of our water southward is inevitable due to global warming, droughts and depleted water reserves in the prairies, California, and the US mid-west.

In the mid-1960s, a scheme was developed of interbasin water transfers from northern Alberta to southern Alberta, or simply water from the north being diverted to south. The plan became known as Prairie River Improvement Management Evaluation, or PRIME. In 1971, the Progressive Conservatives, then in opposition, used the key phrase; "PRIME IS A CRIME". They alluded that the real reason for PRIME was to export water to the US. Though this plan was developed in the early `70s, much of its interbasin transfers, diversions and dam sites are now in place. PRIME became part of the Saskatchewan Nelson Basin Study which was concluded in 1972. It became known in 1981 that the water resource engineers for the Alberta government were happily developing interbasin water transfers. PRIME had become the policy for water management in the province and that the Progressive Conservative government of Alberta had dropped two elements from PRIME, first being the name, and secondly the emphasis on interbasin water transfer. The intent was the same: to divert water from north to south.

Whether the plan is called NAWAPA or the Grand Canal Scheme or PRIME, it's the same plan to take our water and send it south to the US. The players may change but the game remains the same. While this plan was being developed it was quite obvious and recognized from the beginning that there would be opposition from various segments of Canada, but it was felt that would be easily overcome with the enticement of profit and material gain. What was not considered was the original people of the land. During the `50s and `60s our people were still confined to reserves, not allowed off without a pass. For many the issue was survival. In the 1990s, the pressing issue for the original people is the protection of the earth. All First Nations share a common but fundamental belief that the earth is sacred and has been desecrated. She must be protected. It is our responsibility, our duty, that we cannot shrug off. The Real Watergate is an example of blatant act of genocide against the First People. We are on the frontlines. A plan this big will require massive resistance. The few that will benefit from this have at their disposal all the machinery of the state and, with a price tag of $150 billion, they will use all of that machinery. What they have not counted on is that when the First Peoples' very existence and life and all that they hold sacred is threatened, the response will equal that threat.


[SISIS note: most of this information is outdated and should be read as historical record, not a current update of the ongoing struggles of the James Bay Cree, Mohawks, etc. Where possible we have added links to sites with current information on the struggles discussed here.]

James Bay 2

In April 1971, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa announced the "key to economic progress in Quebec" was a multibillion dollar plan to harness the 20 rivers flowing into James Bay and make it one of the largest hydroelectric projects in the world. James Bay 1 built 15 dams, 331 dykes, at a cost of $16-billion. James Bay 2 is slated for completion by 1998. The damage to the environment done by the first phase of the project has left 13,000 square kilometres of Cree territory flooded. Several communities have been uprooted, and in 1984 ten thousand caribou drowned when water was released from one of the reservoirs. The reservoirs have submerged large tracts of land and released mercury from the bedrock, causing contamination of fish and fish-eating wildlife, upon which the Cree and Inuit depend for food and income.

James Bay 2 will flood over an additional 10,000 square kilometres. Water level changes will destroy natural habitats for migratory birds, and flood waters will cover many caribou summer calving grounds with unknown and unspecified effects. River diversions would lead to a concentration of fresh water flowing into Hudson Bay, altering the salinity and water temperatures which will impact the marine life. The phenomenon that produced mercury contamination in the first phase will be repeated, and this time the mercury will make its way into the Hudson Bay and will effect the beluga whales and seals that live there.


The Mohawk territory of Kanesatake came to epitomize the anger and frustration of all original people of this land. From the Innu of Labrador to the Haida of the west coast, the situation wasn't difficult to relate to. The Sulpician priests at one time held the deed which was given to them from the king of France. The object was to establish a Catholic mission for the Mohawks and Algonquins. The fight for recognition of their land base started then and would continue for the next two and a half centuries. It would eventually ignite a controversy over a proposed golf course to be built by the town of Oka in 1990. The town of Oka insisted that the golf course be built in spite of the fact that the area, called the Pines, was the burial grounds for the Mohawks.

The response from the federal and provincial governments was heavy handed and left people wondering what made a golf course important enough to call out the army. The last Warriors left on Sept. 27/90, and the army left shortly after. The government had promised to purchase the land, but ended up buying the wrong area. If one looks at the James Bay 2 map of power lines it would be obvious that the Pines is a necessary component to James Bay 2. The government insists that it made an honest mistake in purchasing the wrong land??

Current information on Mohawk struggles:

Mohawk Nation site
SISIS Mohawk site

Treaty Commissioner and Treaty Land Entitlement in Saskatchewan

The issue of outstanding Treaty land entitlement has gone unaddressed not only in Saskatchewan but in other provinces as well. This issue dates back to the 1800s when the government was unable to do a survey of the various band populations which in turn short-changed the bands on land quantum.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the provincial political body that lobbies on behalf of the bands of Saskatchewan, agreed in principal to a report on Land Entitlement that was released by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. Within the report there was a series of recommendations on how to settle the outstanding entitlements. As well, on the table for discussion was mineral and water rights. The formula that appeared equitable to all parties allowed cash for land value and thus allow bands to purchase lands. It is the hope of Indian Affairs that a national formula would be established by this process.

It's obvious that the motive behind the provincial government's willingness to settle not just one land claim but 27 in total is more than "it's the right thing to do". Land, money and minerals are all secondary. The main reason that the government is pushing through the deal is because the issue of water rights could hold up the filling of the controversial Rafferty-Alameda project. The various dams and diversions will have to run through the majority of entitlement lands. It will at the same time address the issue of water rights (are they part of Aboriginal title) -- on a national level. Saskatchewan has 6 of the 10 Treaties signed between the various Indian Nations and the Crown. The Treaties transcend provincial boundaries and run into the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. One only needs to look at the NAWAPA map and see how strategic Saskatchewan is.

Peigan Lonefighters

On August 3/90 the Lonefighters made camp near the Oldman River, which has sustained the cultural and spiritual life of the Peigan people. In 1976 the province of Alberta had announced plans to build a dam on the Oldman. The idea was shelved due to public outcry. In 1984 it was announced that the dam would be built. The dam will flood 5800 acres, the habitat of deer and prairie falcon. Herons and some large cliff swallow will disappear. Over 300 archaeological sites and 46 historic sites will also disappear. To the Peigan, the river is more than a source of food and water, it is Napi, the Oldman, the creator.

The background of the Oldman river dam has been seen as an integral part of the plan to divert water south. The government insists that the dam is necessary for irrigation purposes, which would only benefit some 200 farmers. Even the farmers feel the dam is unnecessary with new water conservation methods.

After several years of litigation, the federal court of Canada ruled in March 1990 that the project had not received a proper environmental assessment because of the possible impact it would have on Indians, but did not halt the construction of the dam.

Leaked government memos indicate the province's intention is to build all dams so they fit within the eventual concept of interbasin water transfers. There is no economic logic that makes the Oldman river dam feasible, other than for diverting water to the US.

After all the legal avenues had been exhausted, the only option left for the Lonefighters to protect their territory was direct action. The Lonefighters attempted to restore a former channel of the Oldman river on the Peigan reserve. The diversion by the Lonefighters would have rendered the Oldman dam useless.

Lil'wat People's Movement / Mount Currie

The Lillooet and Mount Currie communities are approximately 3 hours northeast of Vancouver located in the interior of BC. The two communities are located amongst some of the breath-taking beauty seen anywhere in North America. But it's slated for logging. The struggle of the Lil'wat is to prevent the destruction of their forest. The logging companies need to build roads to gain access to the forest, these roads threaten the Lil'wat peoples burial grounds. If the logging companies succeed in their objectives, the clear-cutting of the forests surrounding Mount Currie and Lillooet will not be without a heavy cost on the environment. When logging occurs, it always leaves its impact on the water systems, which in turn will affect the marine life and thus the people who depend on the fish for food and livelihood.

Information on current Lil'Wat struggles

Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en

The Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en people's territory spans 57,000 square kilometres of mountains, forests, fast-flowing rivers, and abundant wildlife and game. Archaeologists have found evidence that the area has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years. This has been their homeland since the retreat of the last glacial ice age. The Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en have never signed or entered into any treaty or agreement that would cede or surrender their title to the land. Nor is there any legislation provincially or federally that would expressly extinguish their title to the land. since 1977, the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en people wanted a court decision that would force the government to negotiate an agreement that would allow both societies to co-exist peacefully.

The decision that Justice McEachern handed down stated that Aboriginal title did not exist for the Aboriginal people in BC. By stating this he has effectively handed over fiduciary jurisdiction to the province and that section 35 of the Canada Act does not apply to the First People of BC.

The decision will have an impact on all other Aboriginal people in Canada. It essentially states that the hidden government policy of termination is out in the open and that genocide of a peoples is accepted within dominant society.

The Political Process

This country is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. When the Meech Lake Accord was not ratified, it was a well known fact that there would be many issues left up in the air. The attitude before Meech Lake was that the governments and general public were not concerned with the impact the Accord would have on the First People. What took the country by surprise was the fact that their indifference would carry such a price. When the Accord failed ratification, an underlying issue would be a power struggle between the provinces and the federal government. This has become more and more evident over environmental issues. The federal government has responsibility for the environment and Indians, the two issues that stand in the way of diverting water south. These two issues are at the centre of the tug of war between the federal and provincial governments.

The federal government is holding to the position that its priority is to the provincial governments, but its fiduciary responsibility was and is to the First Peoples. If the provinces gain control it would have to eliminate that responsibility so that they can obtain legal control over provincial territory. History is fit testament to the fact that if the provinces gain control over the First People, it would be a sentence of death for the original people and the environment.

The Force of Resistance

The state has proven that it will use any means possible to enforce its will on the people and the land. That they care little for the earth, and do not have respect for anything that will promote harmony and balance in the world. The machinery of the state has used all available artillery to execute its plan of water diversion. It has used its legal and judicial system the subtle and insidious violence that is perpetuated by racism, it has used its propaganda to hide the truth and discredit anyone or any groups who speak the truth, and it has used the physical force of its police and army when all else failed.

(...) The justice system has been used in the belief that justice will be served. Instead, it has been proven over and over to serve the interests of the governments and corporations. The Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en have been fighting an ongoing battle with the provincial government only to be told you as a people do not matter and all that defines you is insignificant. Justice McEachern could come to such a conclusion even after taking part in the communities' celebrations and ceremonies. He had the opportunity to witness first hand and observe the Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en peoples belief that it is better to show the proper reverence for life than it is to gain from it. The court decision has effectively legitimized Indian Affairs' termination policy of its First People. The modern termination policy does not differ from when the governments used tactics such as starvation and the distribution of small pox infected blankets. The court sees no reason that the Aboriginal People should have a unique place in Canada's future.

Within the same system, a known leader of the Aryan Nations [Carney Nerland-SISIS] can be told that when he murdered an Indian man [Leo Lachance-SISIS], that his beliefs had nothing to do with his act of violence. It is the same system that thought it proper not to take into account his statement that "he should be given a medal for killing that Indian". This self-proclaimed racist received a sentence for four years and he is allowed to serve his sentence in a provincial correctional centre, near his home. This pales in comparison when one Warrior from Kanesatake receives 2 years less a day, and he never fired a shot let alone killed anyone.

When looking at the justice system further, it's evident that the system is there to protect private property and the property holders first. Milton Born With A Tooth, the Peigan Lonefighter's leader, was sentenced to 18 months for firing two shots into the air. While he was in remand he was under the constant threat of solitary confinement. After he was sentenced he was going to be sent to a special handling unit, the closest being in northern Alberta -- far from his home, family and friends. The government saw it necessary to spend $10-million in prosecuting him. The system has no regard or respect for another language or culture. One young Mohawk woman was denied bail until she came up with a "real name", what the court meant was an anglo-Saxon name, regardless of the fact that she had a Mohawk name. This same disrespect was shown to 15 Lil'wat people when they were denied bail for a month until they used a Christian name.

What is even more of a disillusionment is that when the provincial governments receive a decision from the federal court or a higher court they can blatantly ignore it. How can one respect a system that can disregard so casually its own laws.

This has been repeatedly done by the various provincial governments, especially when it pertains to the building of dams. The court of Appeal, in March 1990, revoked the license for construction of the Oldman river dam. The province continued in spite of the court's decision. In Saskatchewan, the federal court ruled that construction on the Rafferty-Alameda would have to stop until there was a full environmental assessment done. The province continues to ignore that ruling as the project nears completion.

As well, the various provinces have passed legislation that would limit information being released to the public. In Quebec, there has been a recent decision by the Superior court that made it illegal for a reporter to release information he had on the provincial government's secret contracts with 13 multinational corporations. In Saskatchewan, a group concerned over the building of the Rafferty-Alameda has continually applied to gain access to information and has even gone as far as petitioning the court. It's ironic that, while this case is being heard in court, the legislative assembly is debating the province's new Freedom of Information act.

The general public is being told the dams are being built for various reasons such as "flood control", "irrigation purposes", or "very much needed power, without it there will be no heating or electricity". The general public follows the belief that the government would not lie. When groups or individuals stand up or speak out, they're labelled as radicals and terrorists. This is the tactic used against the Mohawk Warriors, that they were using violence to protect their interests of gambling and cigarettes which they had smuggled into the country. The same tactic was used against Milton Born With A Tooth. They stated that he was a menace to society, militant, violent and lawless, that he had no respect for the "rule of law". yet upstream the provincial government along with the environment minister were committing a far greater crime by building a dam without a license and did not show any respect to the burial grounds that they had desecrated.

When all else fails the state uses its police force, which can legally assault, harass and even kill someone. This past summer is a testament to that fact. When the police lose control of a situation the army is called out without any public accountability. What kind of society can we live in when the army can be used to ensure the oppression of a people, and where it can be witnessed daily by the country and public opinion is limited. It isn't hard to fathom that we are living in a police state, that there are puppets and then there are puppeteers. As long as the Canadian society continues to live in a system that uses energy at such a high level the government will only become more and more repressive.

The frontlines of the struggle to preserve and protect the Earth have been the original people of the land. This resistance comes not from wanting to protect a vested interest, but a responsibility and a duty to respond when the Earth is in distress. The First People of this land know and understand their place in creation and one does not need a degree in environmental science to know the consequences of diverting and changing the natural flow of water. This insane plan of sending water south will only be prevented by all the Earth's protectors responding. The first call has been sent out. Can you afford to wait for the second call?

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