Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nations sue over flooding

File papers against Ottawa, Manitoba

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Two First Nations hit by the 2011 flood, which had avoided court action up to now, have hired lawyers and formally filed suit against the province and Ottawa.

In the past two weeks, Pinaymootang and Little Saskatchewan First Nations both filed lawsuits, signalling growing frustration with the pace of negotiations for compensation.

Flood Fight

The suits are the latest to be filed by First Nations and their residents, 2,000 of whom remain displaced in hotels and apartments in Winnipeg and Brandon two years after the flood.

In its statement of claim in Court of Queen's Bench, Pinaymootang First Nation at Fairford argues "The flood of 2011 negatively affected their interest in reserve lands, traditional lands, adjacent waterways and other lands."

The suit contends damages to their lands, their residents' livelihoods and their treaty rights from the 2011 flood were deliberate.

"Manitoba constructed and operated control structures that regulate the water regime in Manitoba without adequately consulting or accommodating the plaintiffs and without taking any steps to protect their interests," Pinaymootang stated in its suit filed April 22.

The suit names both the Portage Diversion and the Fairford water control structures.

Canada is included in the suit because it allegedly ignored its duty to protect the First Nation from the province.

Pinaymootang Chief Garnet Woodhouse said the First Nation made a decision not to ask for a specific amount in compensation.

The suit is leverage, the chief indicated. "We are negotiating right now with the two levels of government so I can't give you a number," Woodhouse said.

With Little Saskatchewan, the 56-page suit filed April 30 argues the same grounds but asks for $100 million from the province and another $100 million from the federal government.

Like its sister community, it argues the Interlake First Nation was sacrificed to save Winnipeg from the 2011 flood and claims it was deliberate.

Lake St. Martin and Ebb and Flow have also been active in the courts when it comes to flood claims.

Lake St. Martin has been in and out of court since the 1990s. Chief Adrian Sinclair said Tuesday he's at the negotiating table with both levels of government for a new reserve on higher ground.

Ebb and Flow hired Jeff Rath, an influential Alberta lawyer who is an expert in treaty and indigenous rights. He launched a suit with a twist in 2011. Rath argued the province has an agenda: to expand Manitoba Hydro's electrical capacity by using the Lake St. Martin channel to further regulate Lake Manitoba and its waterways. Tighter control on the province's hydro generating system could win more export contracts, Rath said. "It's all part of the same hydro scheme and the reason they dug the channel is to make Lake Manitoba part of the hydro system.

"The Lake St. Martin channel, that's been on the books since the 1920s. They're using the emergency in 2011 as an excuse to finalize the whole process," Rath said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 A6

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