Aboriginal leaders in Manitoba say they were surprised to learn the provincial government is suing four First Nations in response to a lawsuit over damages from the 2011 flood.
CBC News reported last week that the Manitoba government has launched third-party claims against the Dauphin River, Pinaymootang, Lake St. Martin and Little Saskatchewan First Nations.
The claims are in response to some 2,000 individual residents in those communities who are signing on to a $950-million proposed class-action lawsuit against the province over damages from the 2011 flood.
The provincial government is also suing the federal government, claiming it is responsible for First Nations.
Grand Chief Murray Clearsky of the Southern Chiefs' Organization says he was shocked to learn of the legal action the province is taking against the four First Nations, which are under his group's jurisdiction.
"It's a bunch of BS to me," Clearsky told CBC News on Wednesday.
"They're in fault. Why are they throwing it back at the community?"
Premier Greg Selinger has said the province had to respond to the class action.
"They had to respond one way or the other. But I think in the long run they know … the communities are in financial difficulty," said Clearsky.
"It might be a way out for the province as a stalling tactic, but I don't think it'll stop there. I think it'll go beyond that. I think the communities are going to team up and defend themselves."
Clearsky said a meeting next week will determine where the First Nations should go from there.
'Poorly thought-out legal strategy'
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said his initial reaction to Manitoba's lawsuit against the flooded-out First Nations was surprise.
"I think what they're trying to do is cover their bases and make sure that if there's liability there or negligence issues … that liability can be spread around," he said.
But Nepinak said he has come to believe it's a legal strategy.
"I think it's a poorly thought-out legal strategy, and certainly a poorly delivered strategy," he said.
Nepinak said he thinks the province's legal action is a reflection of the strained relationship between the provincial and federal governments and First Nations peoples in Manitoba.
"There've been attempts to make it look like it's not strained," he said.
"No matter how many ceremonies you have to honour treaties, we don't have a willing party right now with this provincial government."
Nepinak said he didn't see how a judge could find First Nations responsible for flood damages in their own communities.
"I don't really see how First Nations could be held responsible," he said.
"We've been living on our reserves now for decades, for generations. The province may argue that some of our homes were poorly situated, but that ties into the bigger question of the suitability of reserve lands," he added.
"I can't really see the rationale in terms of how they anticipate we would be able to pay. There's absolutely no possibility of that. We're devastated as it is."