Treaty 2 chiefs seek meeting with premier on planning for flood channels

Chiefs from the Treaty 2 First Nations want direct meetings with Premier Brian Pallister before any work starts on two massive flood channels.

Respect for Indigenous leadership needed before work begins, chiefs say

Treaty 2 chiefs want a direct say in the process of digging two, 23-kilometre flood channels. (CBC)

Speaking with one voice, the leaders of 15 Indigenous communities in Treaty 2 territory are asking Premier Brian Pallister for a meeting on proposed flood channels.

The organization met with reporters on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Friday morning.

The chiefs say support for the infrastructure mega-project partially hangs on Pallister showing proper respect to Indigenous government leadership and the province providing extensive detail on the effects of the channels and outlining First Nation participation.

Pallister announced a $540-million cost-sharing agreement with the federal government in June. Two channels, each approximately 23 kilometres long, would drain water from Lake Manitoba into Lake St. Martin and then into Lake Winnipeg.

Treaty 2 Grand Chief Norman Bone says the chiefs weren't formally invited to the announcement in June, and Pallister has not responded to a letter the organization sent to his office weeks ago.

At the June announcement Pallister was asked where the First Nations leaders were and whether they had been invited? 

"Who comes to announcements like this is up to the people who want to come," Pallister said. "But all I can say is we have a respectful process for First Nations people to be engaged."

If there is a willingness to work with us [by the provincial government] we're here. But if they want to undermine us, that's a different story again.- Chief  Garnett   Woodhouse,  Pinaymootang  First Nation

Some of the Treaty 2 leaders did meet with Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clark, Bone says, but it didn't lead anywhere.

"We should have been called as a senior level of government," Bone said Friday. "We have to have these conversations at that level at the outset of any decisions being made."

Bone says while everything from environmental impacts to economic development needs to be worked out before a shovel goes in the ground, it all starts with showing respect.

Chiefs raise issues

Several chiefs mentioned the effects the channels might have on traditional hunting and fishing grounds, water-management issues and the gathering of traditional medicines.

One major issue the chiefs feel hasn't been addressed is damage caused by previous floods and the more than 2,000 people from several communities that, according to their statistics, remain displaced – many living in temporary housing away from home for years.

"That's one of the steps that should be taken ... you have a compounding problem here when you have one emergency over another emergency over another emergency, and we are forgetting about all the people on the ground that need to be looked after," Bone told reporters.

Chiefs from the Treaty 2 First Nations want direct meetings with Premier Brian Pallister before any work starts on two massive flood channels. 1:57

Despite the lack of meeting with Pallister and little information on the consultation or environmental oversight to come, the chiefs of Treaty 2 say they remain open to the construction of the channels – as long as they are involved.

"If there is a willingness to work with us [by the provincial government] we're here," Chief Garnett Woodhouse of Pinaymootang First Nation told reporters. "But if they want to undermine us, that's a different story again."

Minister responds

In a news release Friday afternoon Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said consultations "have taken place or are presently underway with 30 Indigenous communities, as well as the Manitoba Metis Federation."

"Treaty 2 First Nations, including Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River, Pinaymootang, Skownan, Ochichakosipi, Keeseekoownin, Lake Manitoba, and Ebb and Flow have either received consultation payments, received an offer for the chief and council to review, or meetings have taken place with government and the community with draft budgets being finalized. This process is ongoing."

Schuler said the motivation for the massive project is simple: "No longer will long-term evacuations be the norm in this province and for the people of this area."

Though plans have yet to be finalized, Schuler wrote, "environmental reviews are underway and it is our expectation that they will be complete within a year."

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.