Lake St. Martin flood outlet protesters demand consultations
First Nations members are calling on the Manitoba government to talk to them before operating the Lake St. Martin flood diversion channel, which they say hurts the local fishery.
About 40 people set up a peaceful demonstration at the flood channel over the weekend, halting work to open up the channel to full capacity.
Floodwaters flowing through the Fairford water control structure will make their way to the Lake St. Martin outlet, which demonstrators say will negatively affect fishing in the area.
Pinaymootang First Nation member Derrick Gould and others say they want the Manitoba government to consult with them in advance — something that he said did not happen before the channel was opened.
"We are here to be consulted in a meaningful manner."
On Tuesday, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton reiterated his calls to the protesters to stop halting the work of crews in the Lake St. Martin channel.
"We are committed to resolving any fisheries-related issues, but we need that outlet open in the sense that every day that we don't have the full capacity means less flow," Ashton told reporters on Monday.
Ashton said the province may look at calling in law enforcement if the demonstrators do not back down.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called on member chiefs to support the Dauphin River First Nation and others "in rejecting the province’s attempt to open the Lake St. Martin diversion channel without consent and adequate accommodations to the community."
"The opening of the channel has devastating consequences on the Interlake fishing community of Dauphin River and all of its citizens, who are still displaced and living in temporary accommodations following the flood of 2011," the AMC said in a news release Tuesday.
Operating below full capacity
Government officials have said the channel is operating at close to 80 per cent capacity, but it has to be running at full capacity to ease flooding in the south.
Area residents say the channel appears to be operating at close to 30 per cent, but the flows are still causing damage down the channel in the Dauphin River.
"It affects our commercial fishing area in Sturgeon Bay, which is Dauphin River," said Norman Traverse, a Lake St. Martin First Nation elder who has been fishing in the area for 57 years.
"It was a very clean area at one time [for] fishing. We never lost any nets. Now you just can't make a go anymore."
Traverse said he has seen the emergency's channel's impacts on families that rely on the fishery.
"It's a loss. It means what the families enjoyed, we won't be able to do that anymore," he said.
Gould said the province also has to deal with the impacts of the 2011 flood on flooded First Nations such as Fairford, Little Saskatchewan, Lake St. Martin and Dauphin River.
"I'm sick and tired of my people being devastated, year after year — continuously being uprooted … and the foundation of families destroyed forever," he said.