Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dream of home for the holidays

Flood victims protest at legislature

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Lake St. Martin First Nation flood evacuees Cherie and Stephen Thompson just want to go home, but they don't know where that home will be.

The First Nation is still debating the location with the federal and provincial governments.

In the meantime, more than 1,000 residents from that community -- making up half the folks still displaced by the 2011 flood -- are growing impatient.

On Monday, the Thompsons, who have lived with their six children in Winnipeg since being evacuated 18 months ago, were among a few dozen protesters who rallied outside the legislative building, demanding an end to their plight. They also took in question period from the public gallery at the legislature as Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard demanded answers from the governing NDP.

"I just want to get away from Winnipeg," Cherie Thompson said. Her kids have less freedom to roam in the city, and she wants them to have their own school again.

Stephen Thompson, a commercial fisherman, lost most of his equipment in the flood.

"It's just like we're on a merry-go-round and it just keeps spinning and nothing's being done," Stephen said while protesters listened to speeches and held signs reading, "All I want for Christmas is a home" and "The province's cultural and actual genocide."

Although Ottawa is responsible for their housing, the protesters blame Manitoba for diverting waters that caused them to be flooded out.

Their current land is uninhabitable. The province recently purchased some land adjacent to the current reserve in the hopes band members would relocate there. The Lake St. Martin First Nation leadership -- and folks like the Thompsons -- prefer a property a little farther away that's on higher ground.

So far, the two governments and the First Nation have failed to come up with a consensus on the community's future home.

Premier Greg Selinger told reporters Monday the province, despite its land purchase, does not have "a preconceived notion" of where the First Nation's residents should settle.

He said the government is committed to helping the First Nation find a new home as well as to working with Ottawa to invest in flood mitigation to keep it dry.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2012 A8

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