The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project should be ashamed

By Doug George-Kanentiio
- News From Indian Country(NFIC) -

Rather than celebrate 60 years of generating what it calls “environmentally and socially conscious” hydro-electricity that entity, composed of the New York Power Authority and the Ontario Power Generation company should have used the event to express their regret and concern as to the enormous harm the Robert Saunders Dam and the Seaway itself have caused to the Mohawk people, to the area’s water and to its air and land.

The generating of cheap power resulting in the flooding of Mohawk lands, the destruction of additional territory and the collapse of the traditional economy and diet. The effects on the Mohawk people have proven to be devastating for which those companies must be held responsible.

Instead, they boasted of a “Final Settlement” with the Mohawk Council  of Akwesasne entered into on October 2, 2008 which they believe relieves them of any liability for what they have done to our culture, our bodies, our environment.

In their joint statement they point to the benefits of the project which provides electricity for 1,000,000 homes and has generated 400 terawatts of power yet the Akwesasne community continues to be gouged by high hydro costs while the companies exploit our waters. In reality no Akwesasne home should be charged anything and the 6 megawatts used by the Mohawks is miniscule by their measurements. But the lack of a coordinated effort by the three councils to create a singular Mohawk Power Company has meant that every Akwesasne family will continue to pay those crippling rates.

The August 24 celebration took no note of the radical changes in the health of the Mohawk people when the fish based diets were replaced by European based foods. Every time an Akwesasnoron dies from diabetes or cancer or bone disease it can be traced directly to the food we consume. Before 1958 the Mohawk people thrived because of the resources taken from the river but when that was destroyed by the dam and the locks we had no choice but to turn to other sources which our bodies could not process.

The heavy industries such as Courtalds, Reynolds, Domtar and General Motors prospered on Mohawk lands because of the cheap power, easy access to large cargo ships and inexpensive labour enhanced by lack environmental standards. They polluted the region and Akwesasne received the worse of these discharges. This meant the rise in deaths dues to cancers and bone related diseases. Every Mohawk family has been effected by their actions yet their is no recourse for them to receive rightful compensation or to hold those companies, each one now gone, responsible.

Celebrate? Our people were humiliated by the lack of an apology for what the power project has done to us. Besides the physical harm there is the damage to our culture and our economy. We used to be self sufficient in terms of food production and we traded for what we needed. Fifty pounds of potatoes could be exchanged for a couple days of work or 20 pounds of fish. That barter economy faded away when it was found we could not eat the fish and our planting fields contained elements of PCB’s among other lethal chemicals.  Where we had large diary and beef farms are now empty lots since the cattle were crippled by brittle bones directly connected with the smelting of aluminum.

Once we retreated from the land and the water there was no choice but to adapt to a cash economy which did not require knowledge of the natural world or the speaking of Mohawk. The language was discarded as being of no importance in this new world and what good was traditional knowledge if the generation of children born during this time were destined to get jobs away from the territory and in businesses disconnected from nature?

Better to speak English and wear business attire than know how to fillet a walleye or gather leeks. Money became the goal, not the ancient values of simplicity and generosity. This devastation was not addressed during the celebration nor was there any discussion about returning our lands, giving us with alternative territory or providing fair and just compensation for those who have been harmed by their actions.

It is good that no Mohawk leader was present at the ‘celebration” as this would have been humiliating. We need to take on the Seaway, National Grid, the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power as adversaries who have taken our resources and made enormous profits for which they now boast.  

Our demands should be this: new lands, no cost electricity, the creation of a Mohawk power company and the payment of monetary damages to every Mohawk who suffers from diabetes or cancer.

Perhaps then we can formally mark, with regret, the place of the Robert Moses-Robert Saunders Dam in our history.

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