Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feds accused of neglecting weakened dike

800 may face evacuation from reserve

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OTTAWA -- An outspoken leader from the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation says if his community ends up under water, it will be because the federal government didn't bother to do its job.

Terry Nelson, who was the band chief until a recent electoral fight left the community in limbo, says Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has done little to ensure the ring dike around the reserve is ready for this spring's approaching flood water. Nelson has also been unable to determine what the evacuation plan will be for the band's 800-plus residents.

"I told the department 'You guys better do your goddam jobs,' " Nelson said. "It would be stupid to lose $13 million in homes inside the ring dike. If the ring dike fails, it will be because of their negligence."

Roseau River is the only Manitoba First Nation expected to be affected by this spring's floods. Because the reserve falls under federal jurisdiction, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is responsible for its flood protection. Most Red River Valley communities under provincial jurisdiction have received enough extra flood protection in recent years to make evacuation unnecessary.

All but two of Roseau's homes are inside the ring dike, but Nelson said an engineering study recently found the south side of the ring dike, which will face the most pressure from the floods, is weak. He wants to know what INAC is doing to shore up that side to keep the water out.

INAC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said all she could say about the flood was that her department is working with the community and province. "We are still monitoring the situation."

The ring dike has collapsed twice since 1997 and, due to environmental damage to the Roseau River when soil from the dike landed in the river, the entire thing was moved farther from the water. It has not yet been tested against a major flood in its current form, Nelson said.

He said if an evacuation order comes, it won't be until early next week, but residents were already preparing for the inevitable Wednesday, packing up belongings and raising furniture and other possessions off the floor.

Roads around the community will all end up under water, making evacuation necessary because if the ring dike were to fail, it would be dangerous and difficult to get residents out.

Nelson's contact with INAC is limited because the federal department does not consider him to be the band's chief. A dispute between two factions on the reserve led to two separate elections March 2 and both Nelson and another man, Felix Antoine, claimed victory as chief.

INAC has since put the band into third-party management and has called for new elections on April 9. Nelson says he doesn't know what will happen to the April 9 vote, since the community is expecting to be evacuated as early as March 30.

Nelson is demanding Ottawa pay for hotels in Winnipeg to put up evacuated residents.

In 1997, evacuated residents were sent to an arena in St. Anne, and some lived there more than a month, sleeping on air mattresses with no privacy. Nelson says that will not happen again.

"I am not going to allow my people to be evacuated to an arena," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2009 A4

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