Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2009


Published in Great Plains Research 19.2 (Fall 2009): 247.


Copyright 2009 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


When First Nations try to protect their lands and waters it very often involves a struggle against some form of energy-related development. The greatest challenge facing those wishing to understand the long and complicated history between First Nations and hydro development in Canada is just that: it’s a very long and complex story. While this history begins over 50 years ago, the ensuing destruction of Indigenous lands and waters, cultures and ways of life, continues to this day.

Many have believed the time of building new big dams was over, especially since the Report of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) in 2000 highlighted the often environmentally and socially devastating, and in many cases unnecessary, damages inflicted by large dams on local peoples. The WCD concluded that large dams should not be supported unless they result in a “significant advance of human development on a basis that is economically viable, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable.” Nine years later, however, pressing calls for clean energy sources have combined with extensive “green-washing” of hydro development’s destructive effects to resurrect plans for hydro development (of all sizes) across Canada. The question remains to be answered, though, whether these new dams will result in the “ends” necessary for sustainable improvement of human welfare in Indigenous communities.