Manitoba First Nations demand halt to flood channel work after lands cleared in private

A number of First Nations are calling on the Manitoba government to halt all work surrounding the construction of a flood outlet near their communities.

Government's decision eroding 'already difficult relationship' between First Nations and Manitoba: letter

The $100-million emergency Lake St. Martin channel, which opened in November 2011. On Monday, the province said it was on stage two of a four-step consultation process to get local buy-in for its proposed flood mitigation measures. (Province of Manitoba)

A number of First Nations are calling on the Manitoba government to halt all work surrounding the construction of a flood outlet near their communities.

In a letter to government ministers, the communities say they discovered a 23-kilometre route in the Interlake was cleared in preparation for a channel from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg — but they weren't informed by the government, and aren't aware if necessary approvals were obtained.

They allege the province is ignoring its duty to consult with First Nations and may be violating environmental regulations by proceeding with preliminary work on the Lake St. Martin outlet.

Tenuous relationship

"If the province authorized this clearing work, it would further erode an already difficult relationship between our member First Nations and the province in relation to the channels project," reads the Apr. 1 letter from the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council.

The province has described the flood mitigation project as a vital tool to prevent flooding in the Interlake region. 

The tribal council estimates that roughly 23 kilometres of Crown land was cleared, 12 metres in width.

The letter was written on behalf of Little Saskatchewan, Lake Manitoba, Dauphin River and Kinonjeoshetgon First Nations.

The province, however, says it only needed approval from Sustainable Development to clear Crown-managed land.

"Limited clearing was needed in terms of the project alignment to facilitate surveys and site investigations for the engineering design of the proposed Lake St. Martin channel," the email from Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said.

A "robust engagement and consultation program" for the entire project is ongoing and is being led by Manitoba Infrastructure, Schuler adds.

The minister added the province hasn't started construction on the outlet channel itself because of a "lengthy and tedious regulatory approval process" instituted by the federal government. 

In their letter to the province, the First Nations said they became aware on Mar. 13 that "significant vegetation" was being cleared between Lake St. Martin and Lake Winnipeg.

They scoured the area, by air and snowmobile, to determine the entire right-of-way for the Lake St. Martin channel was opened up.

Treaty rights infringed: First Nations

The communities say they received no advance notice and have seen no license or permit authorizing the work on the government's website.

The letter says the province knows the proposed channel overlaps the traditional territories of the member communities in the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council.

"It is difficult to imagine that the Crown could not have anticipated that stripping 23 km of vegetation along the [Lake St. Martin] right-of-way might adversely affect the exercise of our treaty rights in this area. It is clear that this type of work would trigger Manitoba's duty to consult," which the letter claims has not happened.

The communities are also demanding the province provide any documentation proving the work was authorized, if it was. 

The outlet channel has been criticized by First Nation chiefs in recent months.

Late last year, they worried the planned Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin flood channels — estimated to cost $540 million — would spread contaminated water, and shouldn't be prioritized when some community members are still living in hotels years after they were evacuated by the flood of 2011.

First Nation chiefs blast province on Manitoba flood channels consultation

5 years ago
Duration 2:19
First Nations chiefs living near two flood-prone lakes in Manitoba are criticizing the Pallister government for what they say was inadequate consultation on the planned construction of two "critically important" outlet channels.

The province announced plans in 2013 to make a permanent, expanded channel from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg, as well as a new outlet for Lake Manitoba that would flow to Lake St. Martin.

Homes and cottages on Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba were severely flooded in 2011 and 2014. 

The province has called the flood mitigation projects critically important to prevent flooding in the Interlake region. 


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at