Is an apology always the right thing to do?

I appreciate a good, heartfelt apology. I do. I feel it can go a long way toward smoothing over an injustice, even a perceived one.

But, some apologies are just not necessary, and others can open up a Pandora’s Box of problems without fixing the original one.

The latter is how I felt when I read about Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger apologizing for the damage caused by development of the Jenpeg hydropower facility in the province of Manitoba, Canada.

According to various news channels reporting on this momentous event, his apology to the aboriginal communities was, in essence, for the “damage” hydroelectric development caused to their traditional land, way of life and cultural identity.

During this apology to the Cross Lake (or Pimicikamak Cree) First Nation, which occurred in mid-January, Selinger said, “Looking back on what has happened and on the effects on aboriginal communities in Manitoba, I wish now on behalf of the government of Manitoba to express my sincere apology to aboriginal people affected by hydro development.”

The 135-MW Jenpeg Dam Generating Station is on the upper arm of the Nelson River 525 km north of Winnipeg, and the structures are used to regulate the flow from Lake Winnipeg. Construction of the facility started in 1972 and was completed in 1979.

Selinger agreed to the visit, apparently to deliver this apology, after the Jenpeg station was occupied for several weeks last fall. At the time, protesters refused to leave the dam site until they received a personal apology from the premier. The occupation ended in November thanks to an agreement to negotiate the First Nation’s concerns regarding revenue-sharing, environmental cleanup and help with high residential electricity bills.

According to Cross Lake First Nation Chief Catherine Merrick, hydro development in the area has forced people to move and disturbed graves along the lakeshore. “The hydro project has also contributed to mass unemployment and mass poverty for our people,” she said. More than 4,000 First Nation people live on the Cross Lake Indian Reserve, located along the shore of the Nelson River where it enters Cross Lake. It is reported that they have an 80% unemployment rate. However, it is not clear how the hydro development has contributed to unemployment.

The First Nation signed a Northern Flood Agreement with the province in 1977, but Merrick claims none of the promised economic development and employment programs materialized. “The apology does not fix the past. It does not even fix the present,” Merrick said.

Meanwhile, other large hydropower project development work is under way in the province, such as the $6.5 billion, 695-MW Keeyask plant on the Lower Nelson River. I can’t help but wonder how this apology, and Selinger’s admission that the effects of the Jenpeg project were not fully studied, could affect this work. And  I can’t make any connections, but there was a recent bomb threat called into the construction site of the Keeyask project.

What do you think? Was this apology in order? Was it the right thing to do? And how might it affect future hydro development work in the province?

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