Justice resurging as Hollow Water community deals with controversial resource project

Camp Morning Star, a peaceful resistance to the construction of a silica sand mine. Photo by Brittany Guyot.

This story was first published by APTN News Canada and has been republished here with permission. 

Some community members say a massive silica sand mining project is dividing Manitoba’s Hollow Water First Nation, while at the same time, threatening the good results of a ground-breaking Indigenous restorative justice program.

People in the 1000 member community say that they were not adequately consulted on the environmental impact of the $150 million Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) project.

The sand is destined for fracking projects in western Canada.

Hollow Water is 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

It’s the location for this year’s Canadian Association of Journalists – APTN Indigenous fellowship story Justice Resurging which airs on APTN Investigates.

The community is located less than 100 km away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pimachiowin Aki, which means “the land that gives life” in Anishinaabemowin.

Hollow Water community members have set up a resistance camp called “Camp Morning Star” just outside the perimeter of the sand mine area.

Some of the camp members also participated in a legendary restorative justice program called, Community Holistic Circle Healing (CHCH), as a way to deal with rampant sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.

The program brought ground-breaking change to the community where 75 per cent of the children were being sexually abused.

“When I was 12, I disclosed to my mom that I was sexually abused by my grandfather. And at the time I really felt like I was all alone,” said Lisa Raven, the camp’s de facto leader.

“I thought because this happened to me that maybe I’m no good or maybe I am worthless. Or maybe I don’t matter.”

Raven credits the healing she received from CHCH for her ability to defend the land today.

Reconnecting to the land was a major component of the program.

“If you fast forward to today, it does take an incredible amount of courage to stand alone, especially when it seems like nobody’s standing with you,” she said.

“Every day I’m going and I’m still seeing the odds are stacked against us.”

Long time CHCH employee loses his job

The tensions are so high in the community that CHCH counsellor Lance Wood said he believes he was fired from the organization for providing Elder services to Camp Morning Star.

“I think it has something to do with my participating here at Camp Morning Star,” he said. “We have heard from different community people not to hang around here.”

Wood worked with CHCH clients for 18 years, providing valuable counselling services to abusers, former inmates and those on probation.

The former counsellor said the loss of his job is devastating to him and his clients.

A company named Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) has now been granted a license for the project and the land area is already being cleared by the Hollow Water First Nation.

Hollow Water chief and council did not respond to any interview requests made on behalf of APTN Investigates.

CPS spokesperson, Bronwyn Weaver, defended the handling of the project and said the Hollow Water chief and council is onboard with the project.

“This is all in Hollow Water’s home block area, and so that’s part of the reason why we have a participation agreement with Hollow Water,“ she said.

“So with us being there, they understand, the Hollow Water chief and council understand, that to allow us to be able to be in their home block there needed to be some trade-offs.”

She said the disrupted area will be minimal and that there are plans for revegetation.

“By only mining five hectares at a time, and restoring five hectares at a time we’ll have the flexibility to plant what the community would want,” she said.

“If we plant two-year-old saplings then it will take 15 or 20 years for them to look like the way that they do now.”

Community members are concerned about how this project will impact trapping, hunting, and fishing, as it is located on their traditional territory.

Lisa Raven said the fight isn’t just about what is happening today.

She is worried about future generations of Hollow Water band members like her son.

“If I ever give up, how could I ever tell him when things get hard in his own life don’t give up, keep going. How can I ever say that if I was to show him that I’m giving up?” she said.

“They’re watching and that’s who matters because you know our kids and young people, they care about what we do.”

By Brittany Guyot

bguyot@aptn.ca

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