Mishkeegogamang First Nation

Natural Resources

Historic Land Issues

Hydro Development Causes Flooding

In 1929, gold was discovered north of Osnaburgh, and by 1934, the Pickle Crow Gold Mine and the Central Patricia Gold Mine had requested that the Ontario government supply them with hydro at their sites about 25 miles north of Osnaburgh House. In 1934-35 Ontario Hydro built a dam and installed a generator at Rat Rapids, at the north end of Kitchi Miniss ("The Island" between the two reserves), a site that had been carefully left out of the reserves because of its potential for hydro power. The water began to rise in March, 1935, washing away homes and gardens on the reserve and gravesites along the shores of Lake St. Joseph. Band members were given no notice of the flooding.

Compensation for the damage to individual property was assessed at $845.00 by representatives of Hydro and Indian Affairs who made their inspections in 1935. They divided this sum among 18 individuals who were paid on the spot. A further $1,425.00 was paid to Indian Affairs for timber losses on flooded acreage, and $100.00 was paid in compensation for the flooded council house. Meanwhile, the Hudson's Bay Company, although its relocation costs totalled only $9,500.00, inexplicably received $17,000.00 in compensation for the flooding.

The major problem for the band in the hydro developments was the fact that they were not consulted or even told about what was happening, and that due process, according to the law and Treaty Number Nine, was not followed. For example, Hydro paid the government $425.00 to compensate for timber loss along the power line, but there is no record that the band ever consented to or was consulted about the transmission line.

New Shipping Route

At about the same time as Rat Rapids was being developed for hydro, the mining companies were pressing to ship goods from the rail line at Hudson through Lac Seul via the Root River into Lake St. Joseph. The government of Ontario felt that this would improve transportation into northern Ontario, and agreed to pay half the cost.

Three timber crib dams were built along the route, the bed of Root Creek was widened and a dock built at Dog Hole Bay. To complete the route, Pickle Lake mining companies, along with the federal and provincial governments, pushed a road through the reserve from the end of Dog Hole Bay to Pickle Lake.

Once again the people of Mishkeegogamang were not consulted on the plans, even though the dams would raise the lake another three feet, and equipment and supplies that were to be shipped would be landed at Dog Hole Bay, on the Reserve itself. A 1953 petition by the band to Indian Affairs shows how frustrated they were by developments over which apparently they had no control. "There are always certain subjects at Treaty payments," reads the petition, "that are not entirely clear to us because we have no one sufficiently competent to interpret for us. First on our list is about our flooded lands, rice beds, timber and the graves of our beloved. We feel we have not been sufficiently compensated for these and we want a satisfactory explanation." Such explanations were usually a long time in coming.

Diversion of Lake St. Joseph

For years Ontario Hydro had made plans to divert the water of Lake St. Joseph, which normally emptied into the Albany River, into the Root River and from there into Lac Seul. This diversion would move water into the English River and Winnipeg River systems, and provide more hydro power to western Ontario and eastern Manitoba. This would cause great fluctuations in water levels in Lake St. Joseph, and less water flowing into the Albany River.

By 1957, the generators at Rat Rapids were no longer being used to produce hydro, so the dams were now converted to sluiceways to help regulate the flow of water westward. Hydro began to divert water from Lake St. Joseph on November 1, 1957. Reserve land above the natural high water mark was alternately drained and flooded, changing the vegetation and fish and wildlife habitat established since the 1935 flooding, increasing the effect of erosion and dislodging the shoreline debris into the lake. The flow of the Albany River was reduced, adversely affecting hunting and fishing. Because of the varying water levels, fishermen had to frequently move their nets, a time-consuming process and one which meant nets needed constant repair. The cultivation of wild rice in the area soon ended, since wild rice does not tolerate irregular water levels. The fluctuation in water levels continues to this day.