But Premier Gary Doer quickly dismissed the idea.
Leaders of the Manitoba Keewatinook Ininew Okimowin (MKO) said Wednesday that such a referendum would show overwhelming support among members of 11 First Nations living east of Lake Winnipeg for a transmission line and related infrastructure to be built across their territory instead of through western Manitoba, as the government decided in September.
MKO Grand Chief Sydney Garrioch and two chiefs of First Nations represented by the MKO expressed disappointment in the government and Rupertsland MLA Eric Robinson, whose riding covers much of the province's north.
Garrioch, Wasagamack First Nation Chief Ron Harper and St. Theresa Point First Nation Chief Robert Flett said the government had not consulted their members and had made a mistake that would jeopardize the future of young people living on northeast Manitoba reserves.
"The Manitoba government has robbed our children of their future, of wanting to be a sustainable and self-sustaining people," Flett said at a news conference. "In the eyes of the government, I feel that we are people that can be just trampled on. But we have a voice, too."
The MKO represents about 56,000 aboriginal people living on 30 First Nations in the northern half of the province.
Garrioch said a referendum on the route of a proposed transmission line could be organized within three months and poll members of 11 MKO-represented First Nations east of Lake Winnipeg. Questioned by reporters, Garrioch said a referendum could be extended to include other First Nations as well.
"We are saying (to the government), go to these communities," Garrioch said. "Let them determine (the path of the transmission line) by referendum."
Doer, however, said there won't be a referendum, adding there were 80 different meetings with east side residents where the issue was discussed.
"We've had four years of meetings," he said.
People already voted on the issue, the premier said, because it was a New Democratic Party election promise during last spring's campaign. It was one of the only black-and-white issues separating the NDP and the Tories in the campaign.
At the time, Doer promised legislation to protect the east side of Lake Winnipeg from a hydro line.
By comparison, Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen pledged to build the line on the east side.