The Manitoba Metis Federation is demanding some "respect" from Manitoba Hydro as the Crown corporation develops new dams and transmission lines -- and it's threatening legal action to get it.
On the first day of Clean Environment Commission hearings into the construction of the proposed Keeyask generating station, the MMF said Monday it is prepared to go to court, if necessary, to force Hydro to deal with Métis concerns over the project. It has already issued a similar threat with respect to the proposed Bipole transmission line.
Federation lawyer Jason Madden told the hearing Métis people are in the same boat First Nations were in decades ago when their treaties "weren't worth the paper they were written on." But once First Nations took their grievances to the courts, they eventually became Manitoba Hydro's partners.
'The same indifference and arrogance that Manitoba Hydro exhibited to First Nations in the past continues towards the Manitoba Metis Federation'
"The same indifference and arrogance that Manitoba Hydro exhibited to First Nations in the past continues towards the Manitoba Metis Federation, and you're going to hear about that," Madden told the commission Monday at the Fort Garry Hotel.
He wouldn't go as far as to say Monday the MMF is looking to partner with Hydro, but "it does mean that (Métis) people need to be respected," he said.
"The reality with Hydro is, to a certain extent, they don't respect you until you sue them," he said in an interview afterwards.
Earlier, he told the commission the Nelson River system, on which the generating station is to be built, was a historic highway for the Métis during the fur trade and remains important to them today.
Manitoba Hydro has partnered with four First Nations to build the proposed $6.2-billion generating station, 725 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and 35 kilometres upstream from the Kettle Generating Station on the Nelson.
Manitoba's Métis have the wind in their sails since winning a landmark Supreme Court of Canada case in March. The high court ruled Ottawa had failed to make good on land promised to them when Manitoba joined Confederation.
The Métis feel they should also be compensated for harm done to their way of life due to hydro development.
Meanwhile, several groups told the CEC Monday Manitoba Hydro should not receive a licence to build Keeyask until a separate study has been done on the impact to date of hydro development in the North.
"We are very concerned that nobody has looked at the regional cumulative effects on hydro development in Manitoba," said Darwin Paupanakis, representing the Pimickamak people. "How can the CEC know and assess the environmental impact from Keeyask without first understanding the environmental devastation that has already occurred?"
Peguis First Nation and the Consumers Association of Canada made similar points to the commission.
Paupanakis and other presenters also complained there are large gaps in the information Manitoba Hydro has presented so far to justify construction of the project. For instance, he said, the corporation has provided no evidence to back its contention sturgeon spawning areas affected by the dam can be successfully relocated.
The hearings are scheduled to continue until Dec. 5.