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This article was published 4/8/2016 (1339 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A First Nations chief says if the Pallister government wants his support on new flood channels, it needs to come to the table with a commitment for compensation for the 2011 flood.
Meetings between government officials and First Nations in the Interlake on flooding issues and the proposed new flood channels have been terse and have resulted in little action, Lake Manitoba Chief Cornell McLean said.
"Nothing is going to move forward until our issues are dealt with from the flooding of 2011," McLean said.
At the heart of the issue is a non-binding memorandum of understanding, signed between the previous NDP Selinger government and seven Interlake First Nations — Pinaymootang, Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River, Ebb and Flow, O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi and Lake Manitoba.
They agreed to participate in constructive discussions on issues such as Operation Return Home (the return of flood evacuees to permanent homes), settlement agreements for communities affected by the use of the Fairford River Water Control Structure and Portage Diversion. The operation of the Portage Diversion ravaged McLean’s community, which is on the northeast shore of the south basin of Lake Manitoba, leading to the evacuation of 179 residents.
They also agreed to have full discussions on the $495-million deal to construct a flood outlet channel from Lake Manitoba and expand another one from Lake St. Martin.
Since the Pallister government was elected April 19, McLean said any movement made with the memorandum has come to a halt, and they are "back to the drawing board" when it comes to tackling these issues.
A meeting three weeks ago with Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen left McLean so frustrated, he walked out of the meeting — and McLean hasn’t heard from the minister since.
"It is a new government, and they are not ready to make a commitment, and they are scared to pull the trigger," McLean said. "Where does the liability lie here? I had an offer on the table from the previous government, and I also had commitment from them, they were going help us with a few things such as loss of land."
The Interlake Reserves Tribal Council, which represents seven Interlake First Nations, has signed a band council resolution stating they cannot support the proposed channels until their concerns are met — which includes the need for adequate compensation when these channels are operated by the provincial government.
Attempts to reach several other chiefs were unsuccessful. Pinaymootang First Nation Chief Barry Anderson told the Free Press he didn’t want to comment on discussions but felt things were going "positively."
The Opposition NDP says it is "disappointed" in the government’s actions.
"Our government understood the need to establish a meaningful framework for our relationship with First Nations, and we are disappointed to hear that First Nations feel they are not being listened to by Pallister’s Conservative government," said indigenous and northern affairs critic Amanda Lathlin in a prepared statement.
"Sending negotiations ‘back to the drawing board’ will result in needless delays for permanent flood protection for so many communities."
It was written into the 1982 Constitution Act that government bodies have a "duty to consult" with indigenous communities when decisions may infringe upon or adversely affect the community or land.
Premier Brian Pallister campaigned on a new Tory government completing construction of a new drainage channel for Lake Manitoba and an expanded Lake St. Martin outlet during its first term. McLean said First Nations such as Pinaymootang, Little Saskatchewan and Dauphin River will be the most affected by the new outlets.
A request for an interview with Pedersen was denied. In a prepared statement, the rookie infrastructure minister said he is meeting regularly with the indigenous community.
"The intent of this non-binding (memorandum) was to encourage participation of the parties (affected communities and the Province of Manitoba) in productive discussions that would allow for the construction of a flood outlet channel from Lake Manitoba and the expansion of another from Lake St. Martin," Pedersen said .
"These discussions are exactly the type of activities we are currently engaged in."