South Indian Lake

Discover South Indian Lake, Manitoba: A Rich History and Vibrant Community

South Indian Lake is a captivating Indian settlement nestled on the southeast shore of Southern Indian Lake in northern Manitoba, Canada. Approximately 130 km (81 mi) north of the city of Thompson by air, this settlement is home to the O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, a First Nations band government. As of 2016, the population stood at 981, making it the main settlement of this indigenous community.

Accessing South Indian Lake, Manitoba

The lake and the settlement are conveniently accessible via the South Indian Lake Airport and Manitoba Provincial Road 493 (Pr493). Pr493, a gravel road, originates at Leaf Rapids on the PR 391 (also a gravel road) and stretches 219.1 km (136.1 mi) northeast to its terminus at South Indian Lake. The nearest city, Thompson, is 436 km (271 mi) by road.

The Historical Significance of South Indian Lake, Manitoba

The Hudson's Bay Company established a significant fur-trading post at South Indian Lake in 1803. By the 1960s, the South Indian Lake settlement had achieved economic independence through fishing and trapping, with an average combined household income of $5,000. This was a stark contrast to the $500 average income of most northern First Nations communities, according to studies commissioned by the Manitoba Development Authority. The population was 480, with 76.6% treaty Indians and 21.3% identified as “non-treaty Indian and Métis."

The Churchill River Diversion and the Relocation of the South Indian Lake Community, Manitoba

In 1967, the Manitoba Development Authority received assessment studies related to the impending relocation of the South Indian Lake community. This was due to planned flooding caused by Manitoba Hydro's Churchill River Diversion (CRD), which would divert water into the Nelson River at Southern Indian Lake, flooding the area around the southeast shore of the settlement.

The CRD aimed to "increase the water flow to... large generating stations on the lower Nelson River". A May 1967 report by Van Ginkel Associates assessed the relocation site for the community and proposed a plan outlining economic, social, and educational programmes to be integrated with the physical development of the region.

However, the report also warned that "relocation would necessarily negatively disrupt" the way of life of the South Indian Lake settlement. The consultants believed that the era of remote northern communities, such as South Indian Lake, was rapidly coming to an end. They argued that the communities of native people throughout Manitoba had no future unless resources were dedicated to solving the problem of the remote Indian settlement and the Indian reservation.

The CRD raised the water level of Southern Indian Lake by 3 m (9.8 ft), forcing the community of 500 people to relocate. According to a 2015 Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CECM) report, the Van Ginkel Associates plan was never implemented.

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