7 Dams in 7 Days (June6 - June12/2016)

1. Gerald McKay at Graves Site 2. Spillway 3. Gerald with 12 Disciples 4. Taj Mahal 5. Grand Rapids Generating Station

I was thrilled to be included in a group of talented artists and writers as part of this tour orchestrated by the Bush Doctor, Peter Kulchyski, (University of Manitoba). It consisted of: Aimee Craft (Law professor) Stephen Greyeyes, James Wilt (Vice Magazine) Robert Freeman & Jane Hilder (architecture graduate students), Nicole (Ad Astra Comix), Charlie Crowe (Red Rising Activist), Joe Dipple & Ramona Neckoway, (Grad Students, tour assistants), Kelly Janz (administrator/organizer) and Peter Kulchyski who started this tour 3 years earlier. We employed three 4wheel drive vehicles for the demanding trip. We began with a truck, SUV and Jeep but went for 2 trucks on dreaded PR#280.

We met at Peter’s Wolseley home and were gone soon after 9:00am. All vehicles gassed up at the Red Sun near the perimeter before heading north on Highway#6. Four hours later Grand Rapids came into sight. We drove straight to Gerald McKay’s home on the other side of the bridge over the Saskatchewan River. Gerald had started frying whitefish for lunch soon after we passed Devils Lake, one hour earlier. Afterwards, Ger took us on a tour showing how the dam built in the 1960’s had affected his community. At Lover’s Point, just outside his home we saw how close his family was to the dam during its construction. It lent real credence to the severity of Gerald's stories growing up nearby. We stopped at the Generating Station and saw the immensity of the project. We also visited several gravesites and heard testimony to the lack of respect paid to the indigenous people buried nearby. After checking out the Spillway we negotiated our way down to the old riverbed, where the Misipawistik, ‘Singing Waters,’ once flowed. I had seen all this before with Gerald many times but it is stirring nonetheless. A cruise by Taj Mahal, (Manitoba Hydro buildings for employees) brought the curtain down and we were soon on Highway #6 continuing north. We drove to Norway House (a four hour drive) and stayed at the York Boat Inn. Peter and I shared a room setting a template for the entire trip. It would lead to exciting conversation throughout the week as we shared thoughts and experiences: academic and otherwise.I had been an admirer of Peter's writing for years.

5. 6. 7. & 8. Historic Norway House Site

Soon after entering the Norway House band office late morning we were ensconced in office chairs around a huge round table in the inner sanctum of Chief and Council. Anthony addressed our group then we left to visit several York Boats tied up along the wharf. I was surprised to see these historic boats constructed of metal using the same specifications as the original wooden vessels. We also made a stop at the old historic Norway House buildings used during the fur trade. Norway House is proud of their place in Canadian history. I hopped in with local Elder, Nelson Scribe, who drove us outside town where we caught boat rides to see very old rock paintings. I purposely did not include photos. We were back by 4:00pm and then driven to another wharf where we separated again into several watercraft, larger this time. We boated to Two Mile Channel a man made construction that diverts water for Hydro’s exploitation. Suffice it to say the channel is not popular in Norway House, nor the buried refuse left behind. By 6:00pm, having all returned with a pronounced hunger, Peter came to a quick solution. Shortly, we were bingeing on Charlie Biggs chicken and potato wedges that put smiles on everyone’s face. By 9:00pm we were back in town. The hours on the water had sapped me of energy. I believe all slept soundly that evening, even the youngsters.

9. 2 Mile Channel 10. Boat Launch Area 11. Land Destruction Due to Hydro Development. 12. Site of Rock Paintings

Nelson wanted us to take in Sea Falls before we departed his community. This picturesque spot was worth the effort. By noon we had completed the short drive to Cross Lake. The poor weather had negated an afternoon on Sipewisk Lake. The Chief and many of his Council were in Winnipeg that day. Daryl Settee stepped up and provided a narrative on what hydro development has done to his community. Pimichikamak has been a staunch holdout in hydro negotiations. Early evening we were back in our vehicles and gone on the three hour drive to Thompson. In the Hub of the North, we checked into our hotel then walked to nearby Boston Pizza for supper.

13. Sea Falls 14. Nelson Scribe & Aimee Craft 15. Daryl Settee with Group 16. JenPeg Hydro Station 17. Bush Doctor: Peter Kulchyski

This would be our longest day so we were on the road soon after 7:00am. PR 280 had been getting a lot of press recently because Split Lake inhabitants were upset with the deterioration of their community’s only artery. The large amount of traffic by loaded semi-trailers hauling to the Keeyask dam site also made travel dangerous for locals. Several times they had set up roadblocks in protest of the road conditions, trying to get Manitoba Hydro’s attention to the situation. After 3 hours on this brutal road we met Noah Massan at the local church in Gillam After prayer we ate a hearty lunch prepared for us. On my cellphone I showed Noah the drawing I did of him recently. He was pleased with it and I conducted a brief interview. Noah has a great sense of humor but got emotional when asked how life changed since the dams. His eyes misted over as he told his story how the water was now green, no longer blue and fit to drink. Much else has changed in the 50plus years since the first dam was constructed on the Nelson River. I photographed Christina Anderson afterward then we climbed into our vehicles and followed Noah on a tour of several localities such as Steven’s Lake, Long Spruce Dam and Kelsey Dam. We were sorry to leave Noah but had to continue on to Split Lake. Several hours later we arrived at the home of Robert Spence. We devoured a cold but enjoyable chicken supper while listening to this local fisherman deliver an emotional sermon regarding the land and water destroyed by Hydro activities. Not long after we were back on PR 280 did we experience a flat tire on one of the trucks. Rob, Peter and I set about changing the tire but it was Charlie who found the ‘magic spot’ on the rear of the truck to disengage the spare. The spare tire was in poor shape and sure enough, an hour or so later, it also went flat. The road was treacherous with smooth areas (particularly as a light rain had started) and some stretches carpeted with sharp rocks that tore up even new rubber. Heavily loaded Keeyask bound semi-trailers continued to roar by. Jane was soon down in the mud with the tire crank, committed to removing the spare for our use. We were dirty by the time we got moving again but were still in remarkably high spirits. The bar remained high for the week. A short stop in beautiful Pisew Falls was welcome. I feel I can commune with God when I stand in front of that magnificent fast flowing water. We were in Thompson shortly after 10:00pm. The youngsters headed to Boston Pizza. I lasted 5 minutes before realizing bed was where I was needed most. It had been a long day. Road#280 was an experience I wouldn’t recommend. Listening to Robert and Noah give emotional testimony to the fallout from Hydro’s activities they experience every day was heart wrenching for us all. It certainly toughened my resolve to tell these warrior’s stories.

18. Bridge: Pisew Falls 19. Noah Massan and I 20. Magnificent Pisew Falls 21. Christina Anderson 22. Hellish Road: PR#280

We stopped at Notigi control dam for a few photos while on the way to Leaf Rapids. It is a channel carved out of rock by Hydro that redirects water from the Rat River into the Burntwood-Nelson river system. If, indeed, water does have a spirit as the Elders say, this water was truly pissed off and malevolent after it passed through the control structure and was redirected elsewhere. At the town complex in Leaf Rapids, we gassed up then downed a hearty soup. An hour later we were crossing the water via the short ferry ride to the South Indian Lake main land. A lunch prepared by Hilda Dysart and her daughter awaited us at the arena. We ate soup and sandwiches while listening to Leslie Dysart’s presentation on the history of his community’s relationship with Hydro up to the present. Tommy Thomas also gave emotional testimony of his dealings with Hydro. He was Headman in SIL during the ‘70’s when the Churchill River Diversion Project was started. I discovered an older fellow present was Louie, 78, oldest brother of William Dysart. I snapped a few photos and did a brief interview with him. Ross Moose was there, along with Steve Ducharme, both of a small group of still active fisherman. I was delighted to see Robert Baker who I had drawn years earlier. We jumped in Peter’s truck and paid a visit to Robert’s daughter, Josephine. I didn’t stay long but promised to remain in touch. Robert was eager to return to the arena as moose meat was on the menu. Hilda and her daughter went all out for supper. It was a smorgasbord of fish, moose meat, salads, bannock and berries. I had 3 servings I’m embarrassed to say! The best food can be found in the north especially when prepared by these skillful cooks! The sun popped out by 7:00pm. A few hours later we said our goodbyes and were headed back to Leaf Rapids. We set up in an apartment complex. I hiked to Minnie Anderson’s home, saw no lights, so continued down the street to son, Keith’s. His wife, Bertha, Keith’s brother, Dennis and sister, Sandra and some kids were all still up. I was thrilled to see Jake Fortin, (Keith’s father-in-law). We laughed and joked for an hour till I headed back for a needed rest.

23. Notigi Control Structure 24. Robert Baker, I, Ross Moose (Two Intrepid Fishermen) 25. Louie Dysart 26. Ferry Crossing S.I.L.

On that sunny morning we enjoyed an excellent in-house breakfast of eggs and bacon in a bagel. We packed up and headed for Nelson House and the home of Donald and Phyllis Hart. As we ate lunch Jimmy Moore dropped over (lives next door). Donald told a story of Wisakaychak and his rocky seat which we would visit soon. We grabbed our boating clothes and cameras before rambling down the narrow path behind Don’s house to the water. Two boats were waiting for us. I joined half our group in Don’s boat while the other half hopped into Wilson Moore’s craft (with his daughter, Geraldine). I found later that Wilson was Lottie Moore’s first officially adopted child. When I told him I had drawn Lottie, he extended his hand. He agreed he would send some stories of growing up with Lottie. We boated to a sacred site of ‘footprints,’ desecrated when the hydro dams were built years earlier. Afterward, Donald took us to the site of Wisakaychak’s seat (the stuff of legends) up on a rocky cliff. We climbed the hill for a closer look and photographs. The afternoon was hot, with a minimal wind and very pleasant to be on the water. Ramona Neckoway was in our group so we decided to visit her parent’s camp. The camp of about 1 dozen adults and children comprised several tents pitched near a solidly constructed cabin, built by Ramona’s father years ago. The conversation was relaxed that hot afternoon. We weren’t back on the water long when Donald noticed our oil pressure dropping. We took turns paddling our boat for the next 45 minutes while Donald phoned Wilson to come to our aid. I have paddled canoes numerous times but trying to keep a motorboat with 7 people moving in a fairly straight direction was a challenge. After 20 minutes or so, Jane insisted on my paddle. Women’s liberation at its finest! Wilson arrived with oil and we were soon on our way. Back at the Harts, I took a few shots of Phyllis before departure. Thompson’s city lights hit us less than an hour later. We trudged into the Comfort Inn with muddy pants and shoes. Boston Pizza was a welcome relief.

27. Donald Hart on Wisakaychak's Throne 28. Camp of Ramona Neckoway's Parents 29. Nicole, Donald, Joe & Jane 30. Land Erosion 31. Phyllis Hart

Our vehicles were on Highway#6 by 10:00am heading to Grand Rapids. With Peter driving, we made a brief stop at Pisew Falls, this time for mushrooms. We had lunch at the Pelican Restaurant in GR with Gerald McKay arriving a bit later. We gave a toast to the Bush Doctor, Peter Kulchyski, for inviting us on this memorable odyssey. The trip had affected us all and having survived the trials and tribulations we solidified as a group along the way. A lot of time was spent in vehicles; that meant opportunities for conversation. It was funny and informative, when we discussed each of our respective careers, and at times, serious because of what we were witnessing. You are never too old to learn. I really enjoyed the week with this group of young, talented men and women. We hauled our stuff out of the vehicles at Peter’s Wolseley home close to suppertime. After goodbyes and hugs we went our separate ways. I knew our paths would somehow cross again.

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