First Nation sues Manitoba government, seeks to halt logging on traditional lands

Pine Creek First Nation has filed a lawsuit against the Manitoba government, claiming the province breached its constitutional duty to consult them about commercial logging operations in their traditional lands around Duck Mountain.

'The days of simply taking wealth from our mountain … are over,' says Pine Creek Chief Derek Nepinak

A photograph from Oct. 3, 2020, shows a clear-cut section in Duck Mountain Provincial Park. Pine Creek First Nation claims in a lawsuit that the province of Manitoba breached its duty to consult them about commercial logging operations in their traditional lands around Duck Mountain. (Submitted by Jeremy McKay)

A First Nation in western Manitoba has filed a lawsuit against the provincial government, claiming the province breached its constitutional duty to consult them about commercial logging operations in their traditional lands around Duck Mountain.

"The days of simply taking wealth from our mountain while our people cannot even get food for their families from our traditional lands are over," Pine Creek Chief Derek Nepinak said in a Tuesday release from the First Nation.

Members of Pine Creek — a First Nation on the southwestern side of Lake Winnipegosis, east of Duck Mountain Provincial Park — have relied on those lands for generations for hunting, trapping, fishing, gathering berries and medicines and growing gardens, the release says.

The First Nation has also traditionally used that land to share knowledge with their children and for spiritual purposes such as prayers, ceremonies and offerings, it says.

Treaty No. 4 acknowledges the right of Pine Creek members to continue to exercise their rights to sustain their culture and way of life and to protect those lands and waters, the First Nation's release says.

Land, water 'under persistent pressure'

However, for more than a quarter century, those lands and waters have been "under persistent pressure" as a result of commercial timber harvesting and other industrial and recreational activity, according to court documents filed Tuesday in Court of Queen's Bench.

The cumulative impacts of those activities have significantly diminished Pine Creek members' ability to exercise their rights and engage in traditional and spiritual practices, the court filings say.

Pine Creek First Nation, also known as Minegoziibe Anishinabe, is located just over 100 kilometres north of Dauphin. Nepinak and his council filed the lawsuit on behalf of 4,000 Anishinaabeg members.

Duck Mountain is the only provincial park in Manitoba where the government allows commercial timber cutting to continue and one of only two provincial parks in Canada that allows commercial logging, according to the First Nation's release.

The lawsuit also names as a respondent Montreal-based Louisiana-Pacific Canada Ltd., which holds the logging licence for the area. 

Although Louisiana-Pacific's original agreement with Manitoba expired Dec. 31, 2014, the province issued two extensions, which ultimately ended Dec. 31, 2021, the court documents say.

Manitoba is constitutionally obligated to consult Pine Creek First Nation before each new licence extension is issued, the documents say. That did not happen, even though the minister of agriculture and resource development was aware of concerns regarding the effects of the ongoing activities, the First Nation alleges.

Moose populations in Duck Mountain have declined sharply since the onset of commercial timber cutting with significant moose hunting bans being implemented, the documents say.

'Pattern of disregard'

A few days after the last agreement expired, an order in council —  a record of a decision made by the provincial government's cabinet — authorized then agriculture minister Ralph Eichler to issue a third unilateral extension to Louisiana-Pacific.

That licence permits the cutting and removal of over 350,000 cubic metres of hardwood (deciduous trees) this year alone, the lawsuit says, with the vast majority of it coming from Duck Mountain.

That "is more than 40 football fields of wood with the wood piled one-metre high," the lawsuit says.

It also alleges that for 16 years, Manitoba has allowed Louisiana-Pacific to operate without an approved long-term forest management plan and without addressing Pine Creek First Nation's concerns regarding the effect.

"Manitoba has engaged in a pattern of disregard for PCFN and PCFN rights in favour of the commercial interests of Louisiana-Pacific," the lawsuit says.

The suit seeks to quash or set aside the extension of the licence agreement and halt Louisiana-Pacific's operations relating to the current licence.

It also asks for a declaration that the Crown and province owe a duty to consult and accommodate Pine Creek prior to issuing future licences in the area.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson said the province cannot currently comment on the case as it is before the courts.

Louisiana-Pacific said in a statement emailed to CBC News that it is aware of the legal action.

"Although we cannot comment on the lawsuit, LP remains committed to engaging with Indigenous Nations, including Pine Creek, regarding our sustainable forest management operations in Manitoba," the statement said.

A hearing date for the lawsuit has been set for Feb. 8 at Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg.