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Too many cooks

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The situation with the Lake St. Martin First Nation is quite sad.

Not that the 600 or so residents of the band are the only people affected by flooding this year. Nor are they the only ones who have been forced from their homes with no idea when, if ever, they can go back.

But what is evident in the situation with this band, is the ongoing problem when there are too many governments involved.

When it comes to First Nations all too often the jurisdictional battles over who is responsible make for  bad outcomes.

Manitoba is technically responsible for emergency management, but Ottawa has jurisdiction for First Nations. Earlier this month Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said it was up to Manitoba to figure out where to move the 600 residents while a permanent solution is found for their flooded-out land. Ottawa would pay for it, but Manitoba had to find it.

Ottawa promised to pay for some flood-mitigation measures for the reserve for the future, but the immediate problem is where to house 600 people whose homes have mostly been destroyed.

In the meantime, 600 people are stuck in hotels in Winnipeg, kids missed months of school and fishers are missing their entire season on the lake.

But it seems finally, after weeks of back and forth between Ottawa and Manitoba, the parties are working together to find a solution.

Duncan's spokeswoman reiterated today they are taking this problem seriously.

"Our government is working with the province and we are at the table," she said. "This is an important issue and we continue to work with affected First Nations communities. We have improved the efficiency of our Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements and we will continue to work with stakeholders and partners."

A few weeks ago Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson sounded bitter and frustrated when talking about his dealings with Ottawa on the matter. This week he was far less irritated and far more hopeful things were moving forward.

There were several meetings this week with the chief, the province and Aboriginal Affairs officials to discuss the option of moving residents to mobile homes on already serviced lots in Gypsumville.

It's not going to be an overnight solution and it will likely be awhile yet before the Lake St. Martin folks can leave hotels and set up temporary homes. But it seems progress is being made.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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