A group of Manitoba First Nations say a recent judicial hearing showed that the Manitoba government failed to “engage in good faith with First Nations” when they embarked on a multimillion-dollar flood protection project.
This week the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC), a group of six First Nations communities in the province’s Interlake region, was in court for two days arguing the province did not adequately engage with affected First Nations communities about a portion of the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels project.
The $540-million project is aimed at preventing a repeat of flooding that forced thousands from their homes in 2011.
But the IRTC claims the province issued a permit to start clearing a 23-kilometre-long portion of Crown lands to start building an all-season road in 2019, but without advising nearby communities.
IRTC said they oppose the clearing of the land, because they worry about the effects it will have on the local fishery, as well as on the area’s traditional lands.
In a Friday press release, The IRTC said the two days of court hearings this week, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, was proof the province was not engaging properly with First Nations over the project and the construction of the road.
“On both days we saw the Province’s total disregard for our Treaty rights and any meaningful dialogue with us before ruining lands our people rely on,” IRTC chief executive officer Karl Zadnik said on Friday.
“Consultation is a two-way street, and a dialogue something the Province has so far refused to do in good faith. The constant misconstruing of information by the province is simply beneath them. They know what is right. And we hope they start doing it.”
Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels also weighed in on this week’s court hearings and said he believed it was obvious the province had not properly consulted with First Nations communities over the road project.
“Once again, we are saddened by the narrative that was perpetuated at the hearing,” Daniels said. “The records are there for everyone to see.
“Manitoba never held meetings with the impacted First Nations to discuss the 20-kilometre clearing and the road.”
In the release, Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Cornell McLean, who also serves as the chairman of the IRTC, said he hopes that newly appointed Premier Heather Stefanson will make greater efforts to consult with affected First Nations communities about the project now that she is in office.
“Moving forward, we are hopeful that the new Premier will work to reset the relationship with our communities, so that true partnership with First Nations on their proposed Channels project can take place,” McLean said.
It was reported that during court proceedings this week the province argued that they had spent years consulting with First Nations groups over the project and argued that they had experienced a lack of engagement from many of those communities.
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the province for further comment, but a provincial spokesperson said because it is an ongoing legal matter they would offer no comment.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun