Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations blame feds for host of flooding woes

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PEGUIS and Roseau River First Nations chiefs led 100 protesters through downtown Winnipeg on Friday to draw attention to what they claim is government neglect responsible for mounting flood damage on their lands.

"The reason we're here is we don't get treated the same way as non-First Nations when it comes to flood protection," Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson said.

Some 681 members of the Interlake First Nation are staying in Winnipeg hotels after homes and roads were flooded this month. Most Manitoba flood evacuees this spring are from First Nations.

"Our community at Peguis has flooded six times in the last three years... We need long-term flood protection. Our people are tired of being flooded out," Hudson said.

Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation had 800 people flee the community, a decision that federal officials reversed this week when they ordered most to go back home.

Roseau Chief Terry Nelson said the evacuation was taken as a precaution over safety concerns with road access and the community's ring dike.

And he warned other leaders that federal flood cash advances -- $10 million to 14 First Nations so far -- can come at a cost. "We've had the most experience with that as a First Nation in Manitoba so unless you have a team of accountants to account for every receipt, they're going to get you to pay it back," he said.

He said the federal government reversed the evacuation order because it didn't want to pay hotel bills forevacuees.

"There are 1,500 people staying in this city, who have been evacuated," Nelson said when the protest gathered in front of the Hargrave Street offices of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Protesters carried placards that criticized the federal flood response as too little, too late.

Cecil James and his sister Cheryl James from Roseau said they're organizing a fundraiser for Roseau evacuees at the Marlborough Hotel Sunday afternoon. They said entertainers donating their time include comedian Don Burnstick and Manitoba musicians Don Amero and Sierra Noble.

Protesters identified themselves from Interlake and east side Lake Winnipeg First Nations, in addition to Peguis and Roseau.

"I'm here to support our First Nation neighbours because they supported us when we had a protest two weeks ago," Lake St. Martin band member Bill Traverse said.

Lake St. Martin is an Interlake First Nation with health and housing problems from years of overland flooding, which their leaders blame on provincial water diversions.

The province promised a study to examine those impacts earlier this month.

The protesters marched to the legislature on Broadway where the focus shifted to building up support for self-government.

"We're going to build our own houses, we're going to build our own economy," the Roseau River chief said. "We don't have to ask permission. Nobody is going to stop us."

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2011 A13

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