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The Narwhal wins national award for photo essay on Manitoba Hydro’s impacts on Indigenous communities

The Canadian Association of Journalists award for photojournalism celebrates a feature that showcases how five decades of hydroelectric development has transformed the lives and landscapes fed by the Nelson River in the province's north


The Canadian Association of Journalists presented The Narwhal with an award for photojournalism Saturday, during a Zoom gala to celebrate excellence in journalism produced in 2020.

The award for photojournalism went to Aaron Vincent Elkaim for his in-depth photo feature that examines the impacts of hydro development in northern Manitoba within the larger contextual legacy of ongoing environmental colonialism in Canada. 

Elkaim spent several years travelling to Indigenous communities impacted by six major hydro dams built along the Nelson River, which have flooded and destroyed ecosystems, polluted water, degraded fish quality and exacerbated the problem of economic and food insecurity in the remote region.  

Ninety-seven per cent of energy produced in Manitoba comes from hydroelectricity.

“Manitoba’s hydroelectric dams have always been marketed as clean, renewable energy,” Elkaim writes. “And yet, these projects have massively transformed the province’s northern ecosystems, impacting the culture, lives and livelihoods of Indigenous communities.”

Father Kennith Kitchekeesik administers a funeral in Split Lake in northern Manitoba. The banks of the cemetery have been reinforced by riprap to prevent erosion after human remains were found exposed. “Skull and bones are starting to pop out here and there along the banks,” Kitchekeesik says. “Hydro is flooding our sacred grounds, where people were buried 50 or 100 years ago. They are now just drifting down the Nelson River.” Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim

The award is a demonstration of The Narwhal’s commitment to powerful visual storytelling, The Narwhal’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, Emma Gilchrist, said. 

“We launched The Narwhal to tell stories that are often out of sight and out of mind,” Gilchrist said. “We are incredible honoured to receive this recognition for telling an often-overlooked story.”

The award is Elkaim’s second for The Narwhal. His photo essay documenting the impacts of oilsands development on the Fort Mckay First Nation took home the Canadian Association of Journalists photojournalism award in 2019

Elkaim’s work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, National Geographic, TIME, Telegraph Magazine, The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail.

The Narwhal was also nominated for Amber Bracken’s photo essay of the Wet’suwet’en matriarchs who were arrested by RCMP officers enforcing the Coastal GasLink pipeline injunction in January 2020, along with seven other awards.

Both Elkaim’s and Bracken’s photo essays are also currently nominated for photojournalism awards with the 2021 National Magazine Awards

Launched just three years ago, The Narwhal is ad-free, non-profit and has just eight full-time employees. The Narwhal’s award-worthy journalism is made possible by the more than 3,100 monthly members.

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