The leader of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba is looking for a permanent fix for the annual problem of flooded homes and evacuations.

As of Monday, 135 residents of the community are in Winnipeg and some 300 houses are affected directly or indirectly by flooding in the First Nation about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg in the Interlake region.

The First Nation deals with flooding every year, but some floods are more devastating than others; in 2009, more than 800 people fled their homes because of rising water.

"People have come to, unfortunately, deem it as a normality," said Glenn Hudson, Peguis's recently re-elected chief. 

"There are solutions to it. We just have to have both levels of government — federal and provincial — work with us addressing those solutions."

Divert river

A 2009 report by engineering firm AECON, the River Watershed Hydrodynamic Model and Economic Analysis Study, says Peguis and its northern neighbour, Fisher River First Nation, "undergo flooding more frequently and are more severely impacted than most other communities in Manitoba."

Chief of Peguis First Nation Glenn Hudson looking at Fisher River

Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson looks at Fisher River, which regularly floods his community. (CBC)

Over the years, the First Nation has weighed several mitigation options, including moving some of the homes to higher ground and building a dyke along the Fisher River, which runs through the community and is the source of much of the flooding.

Chief Hudson said the community is now looking at the possibility of diverting the river before it reaches the First Nation "so it can go to a location east of the reserve, where it's in a natural slough and a bog and it will flow out to Lake Winnipeg."

Hudson said this option could cost $33 million to $40 million.

Mitigation vs. disaster relief

Hudson said he presented this option to the federal government after a major flood in 2011 but received no response.

"And here we are again with flooding," he said. "It gets tiring."

Hudson also said the federal government spends more on disaster relief than it does on actually mitigating the problem.

Though he estimates a diversion could cost up to $40 million, the federal government said it spent that much on temporary housing for 2,255 people from about half a dozen First Nations affected by floods in Manitoba in 2011.

A spokesperson from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which is responsible for flood mitigation in First Nations communities, couldn't immediately confirm whether the federal government is considering a diversion nor provide figures indicating how much the department has spent on mitigation and flood relief.

Relocation

Thousands of kilometres east, in northern Ontario, the Kashechewan First Nation is looking at its own solution to its flooding problems.

During a referendum held in 2016, 89 per cent of the First Nation voted in favour of relocation to higher ground — a move that could cost up to $1 billion.

Hudson said that's simply not an option for Peguis.

"Our people still remember being forcefully moved," he said, referring to 1907 when his band was illegally evicted from their land near Selkirk, Man.— 138 kilometres south — and moved to their current location, which is largely marshland. 

"We'll consider moving if the feds give us Kapyong [Barracks in Winnipeg]. I'll move all my people there," he joked.

Peguis is one of four Manitoba First Nations that have been trying to purchase the abandoned military base, located on prime real estate, for an urban reserve.