Indigenous Activists Resist the Environmental and Economic Devastation Caused by Mega Dam Projects

Excerpts of speeches by Amy Norman of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador and Rita Monias and Carlton Richards of Cross Lake, Manitoba, Canada, all members of the North American Megadams Resistance Alliance, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

For the past 50 years, indigenous people and their supporters have gathered on Cole’s Hill in the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, to mark a Day of Mourning on what others celebrate as Thanksgiving. During a two-hour rally that included activists speaking on megadams resistance, only indigenous people speak. The rally is followed by a short march through town to the site of Plymouth Rock, which commemorates the 1620 landing of the Pilgrims in North America.

The event is organized by the United American Indians of New England, which every year provides a platform to share information about indigenous struggles throughout the Americas. This year, several members of the North American Megadams Resistance Alliance spoke about their efforts to stop destructive big hydroelectric dam projects on their territories.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus attended the event and recorded the presentation by the anti-megadam group. One of the speakers pointed out that, even though such projects are described as generating clean, renewable energy, in one aspect they are not — due to the drowning of large numbers of trees and other plants that once absorbed carbon dioxide and after being submerged, release methyl mercury.

AMY NORMAN: [Greeting in native language.]

My name is Amy Norman. I’m an Inook woman born and raised in Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador, on the northeastern part of so-called Canada. I had the great privilege to speak here two years ago to talk to you about what’s happening in my territory, because I live downstream from a megadam, and it’s destroying our lands. It’s destroying our waters and it’s disconnecting us from our culture. Unfortunately, two years later, nothing has changed.

So we’re here as part of the North American Megadams Resistance Alliance to explain what really happens in the shadow of these dams. These companies greenwash them and they tell you that they’re carbon-free or a great source of clean energy, but that is not true. The carbon output is just as bad as coal. They destroy entire ecosystems. They’re poisoning our waters with methyl mercury. You know, as Inuit, we depend on the food we get from water. We eat fish, and seal. We’re seal people; that’s so important to us. I have a seal skin pin on right here.

And because of these megadams emitting methyl mercury and contaminating our food webs, we can’t eat the seal anymore. We can’t hunt and fish like we used to. It’s disconnecting us from who we are and that’s cultural genocide. We’re here to spread the word about that, what happens with these megadams, and to really speak out about the connection because this hydropower – your state of Massachusetts is trying to import power from our rivers into your homes. That makes your state, your governor, anyone here, complicit in the genocide of our people.

We’d love to chat with you more about this. We’ve been speaking all over Massachusetts, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, because it’s not just the one in my backyard. It’s not just the ones in their backyard. It’s all over North America. It’s all over South America. It’s all over the world. These megadams disproportionately impact indigenous people and we’re here to tell you the truth about them. Thank you!

RITA MONIAS: [Greeting in native language.]

Hi, my name is Rita Monias. I’m from Pimicikamak, a community in Cross Lake in northern Manitoba, Canada. Our lives have been turned upside down by hydro developments, corporations that destroy our lives, reverse the river system, and like I said, haa taken our culture away. Our economy is gone and so is the water and land, destroyed by this hydro development. So we’re here in Plymouth in solidarity with the indigenous people of the U.S. and Canada, in solidarity because we live in Turtle Island. Solidarity!

CARLTON RICHARDS: [Greeting in native language.]

Hi, my name is Carlton Richards. I come from Manitoba, Canada – Cross Lake. I am one of a very few youth who still speak our native language. I am here to represent every youth from all four directions. Please, listen. I come from a reserve where we live right next door to a hydro dam. I have witnessed islands disappear, lands disappear, I have witnessed our waters get really, really dirty. Our children cannot swim in our waters. We can’t drink our waters. And you know what? We are one people; we live on one land and that’s Turtle Island. Right here. Four directions, we are all here as one people.

In our reserve our waters are not safe. The waters fluctuate so much that it is not safe to hunt, trap and fish. I risk my life every day to go out there and practice my tradition and my culture. I myself have lost my uncles, my grandfathers on the waters that we come from.

It is not right that these megadams can just go and build them. It is not right where they stand. And that is why we are here today to stand against it; we are resisting against it. So that being said, my brothers and sisters, let’s stand strong together. Thank you!

For more information on the North American Megadams Resistance Alliance, visit
northeastmegadamresistance.org. 

[Correction: The spelling of Rita Monias’ last name has been corrected from an earlier version of this story.]

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