Aaron Vincent Elkaim

6x6 North and Central America Talent: Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Canada

“Aaron Vincent Elkaim uses storytelling and photojournalism to address critical issues. Through his work, he documents how the traditional communities are connected to their land.” - Heidi Romano, Australia, independent artist, curator, design consultant, and 6x6 nominator.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim is a Canadian freelance photographer whose work explores environmental issues through postcolonial narratives of industrialization, land rights, and power structures. 

A State of Erosion: A Legacy of Hydro in Manitoba’s North

A State of Erosion: A Legacy of Hydro in Manitoba’s North explores environmental colonialism in northern Manitoba, Canada. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of hydroelectric energy, with 97 percent of the energy in the province of Manitoba produced by hydroelectricity. 75 percent of that energy comes from five dams on the Nelson River system, where a sixth mega-dam known as Keeyask is under construction. These dams have been marketed as clean renewable energy, yet they have transformed ecosystems impacting indigenous health, culture, and livelihood.

After decades of exploiting indigenous lands without consultation, Manitoba Hydro, the electric power and natural gas utility in the province, had to partner with four communities whose traditional territory would be impacted by the new Keeyask dam. The partnership divided people. Some saw the construction in positive terms, while others clung to their values to protect nature. Ultimately all four communities signed on. Since approval, the dam has gone over budget from $5.7 billion and could reach $10.5 billion by completion in 2021, undercutting the profitability and the prospect for the communities to financially benefit from the partnership. 
The Keeyask dam site at Gull Rapids on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba, Canada, on 10 June 2019. The dam will generate 6.9 Megawatts of energy and have a 93 square km reservoir.
Langford Saunders, president of the Norway House Fisherman's Co-op, rests in his boat after a day of commercial fishing on Lake Winnipeg in northern Manitoba, Canada, on 18 September 2016. Many fishermen complain of changes to their waterways due to hydro regulation; from green slime and debris getting caught in their nets, to an increase in lower grades of fish such as mullet instead of the higher-priced pickerel and whitefish.
A mural commissioned by Manitoba Hydro depicting indigenous children on the banks of a blue river in the city of Winnipeg in northern Manitoba, Canada, on 26 August 2016.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation Councillor Robert Spence combs an eroded shoreline where human remains were recently found, near his community of Split Lake in northern Manitoba, Canada, on 19 September 2018. Erosion caused by fluctuating water levels has unearthed numerous historic burial grounds in the area. The situation will likely get worse after the completion of the Keeyask Dam 60 km downstream, which will raise water levels on the lake.

Where The River Runs Through

Where The River Runs Through documents the impact of the construction of the Belo Monte Dam Complex on the Amazon and the indigenous communities that rely on the rainforest for their survival. Plans for the construction of Belo Monte began in 1975 under a military dictatorship in Brazil. It would be built on the Xingu River, home to Brazil’s first indigenous reserve. In 1989, the Kayapo, a warrior group fearing for the health of the river that sustained them, mounted a public campaign opposing its construction. International financiers soon pulled their support, and the project was shelved. In 2007, Brazil announced the Accelerated Growth Program, allowing the construction of over 60 major hydroelectric projects in the Amazon over the next 15 years, with Belo Monte at the forefront. The energy generated would fuel mining initiatives and power cities thousands of kilometers away. Nearly completed, Belo Monte is considered the fourth largest dam in the world and has displaced nearly 40,000 people.

The impact of large dams is immense, with hundreds of square miles of land flooded and complex river ecosystems permanently transformed, devastating fish stocks and water quality people depend upon. In the Amazon, dams release huge amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, while new infrastructure, population, and economic growth open the forest to increased logging, mining, and agriculture. This results in an accelerated erosion of the Amazon Rainforest at the expense of cultures and communities who depend on the river and forest ecosystems for their way of life.
A family plays and swims in a dock on the Xingu River, near the city of Altamira in Para State, Brazil, on 3 December 2016. 
‘Garimpero’ — artisanal gold and diamond miners — work on the Chapeo du Sol mine on the Tapajos River in Para State, Brazil, on 6 March 2016. Much of the energy from new hydroelectric projects is planned to power large scale mining projects within the Amazon, such as the proposed Belo Sun gold mine near Belo Monte.
The Juruna people, from the Paquiçamba Indigenous Reserve, attend a public audience where riverine communities were able to voice their grievances to the Public Ministry and Notre Energia, the consortium in charge of building the Belo Monte Dam. 11 November 2016.
A young woman at a nightclub in the city of Altamira, in Para State, Brazil, on 18 December 2016. Located in the heart of the Amazon, on the Xingu River, Altamira has been through several economic booms, the most recent being the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. With the influx of money and people, urban culture has been fortified.

See 'A State of Erosion: A Legacy of Hydroelectric Energy' by Aaron Vincent Elkaim on Witness.

Discover work by the 6x6 North and Central America talents, and find out about 6x6’s nomination and selection process.