Province seeks to transfer control of northern airports to First Nations

Premier signs memorandum with chiefs


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The proposed transfer of 23 northern airports and five marine facilities to First Nation ownership shows that “reconciliation in Manitoba is alive and kicking,” Premier Brian Pallister says.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/02/2020 (1130 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The proposed transfer of 23 northern airports and five marine facilities to First Nation ownership shows that “reconciliation in Manitoba is alive and kicking,” Premier Brian Pallister says.

At a ceremony in an ornate legislative building meeting room Thursday, Pallister and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, surrounded by several other First Nations leaders, signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize discussions towards a transfer agreement.

Northern airports and ferries are a lifeline to remote communities, enabling the transportation of medical patients, food, medicine and provincial staff.

Indigenous leaders envision the creation of a Manitoba First Nations airport authority to oversee the province’s northern airports and marine operations. The network covers an area from Selkirk north to Sayisi Dene First Nation and from Brochet east to Shamattawa First Nation.

Pallister and Dumas touted the memorandum as an example of how governments and Indigenous groups can work together. They also said it could lead to future agreements with tangible economic benefits for First Nations.

Dumas noted the signing comes at “a critical time in the relationship between First Nations and Canada.”

Referencing tensions between governments and Indigenous groups across the country, he said the Manitoba initiative shows what is possible when two willing partners work towards constructive agreements.

“We are here today to demonstrate that agreements can still be reached, and there is still substantive and constructive dialogue on economic development taking place in Manitoba,” the grand chief said.

Dumas said the assembly will look at developing further agreements with the province, as First Nations seek greater authority over such sectors as gaming, renewable energy and freshwater fisheries.

The assembly will also look to Ottawa for support in the airports/marine initiative, he said.

There were no federal officials at Thursday’s announcement.

A spokeswoman for federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller couldn’t say if any arm of the federal government has been involved in the process. She said Indigenous services has not been consulted about the potential airports transfer.

The agreement would give First Nations independence in controlling the transportation infrastructure they depend upon, the premier said.

The premier pledged to maintain the vital air and marine services at current or improved levels throughout the transfer process.

Betsy Kennedy, chief of War Lake First Nation, said the move to First Nation control will ensure the continuance of needed service to communities, including hers.

“Right now, we’re really concerned about what’s going to happen with our airport (at Ilford, 680 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg). We don’t have an all-weather road,” she said.

A shopping trip to Thompson from Ilford via the Hudson Bay Railway can take three days, Kennedy said.

According to the agreement, all Northern Airports and Marine Operations division assets would be transferred to First Nations. The parties have set a goal of achieving an agreement before June 30, with a transition plan in place by July.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.


Updated on Thursday, February 20, 2020 8:46 PM CST: Fixes formatting

Updated on Friday, February 21, 2020 8:21 AM CST: Final

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