Peguis First Nation launches $1B lawsuit, declares state of emergency

Lawsuit against provincial and federal government demands compensation for flood damages

Over the past two decades, repeated floods have devastated Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. This week, after launching a $1-billion lawsuit and declaring a state of emergency, the community hopes the provincial and federal governments will finally take action.

“On the land that Chief Peguis once protected, we are compelled to declare a state of emergency in Peguis First Nation. This declaration is driven by a severe crisis that affects not just our land and homes, but the very spirit and well-being of our people,” Chief Stan Bird said at a press conference hosted in Peguis.

Located 200 km north of Winnipeg, Peguis is the largest First Nation in Manitoba, with a population of more than 10,000 members.

The lawsuit seeks compensation from the federal and provincial governments for flood damage, along with associated repairs and clean-up costs.

The community was first displaced from the St. Peter’s Reserve near Selkirk, Man., in 1907, following an illegal land transfer. Today, about 549 members are still displaced by the flood of 2022 – one the community says was the most destructive.

Bird said there are more than 180 condemned houses in Peguis. However, some families, lacking options, still live in them.

“The scars left by these waters are not visible only on buildings alone, but are evident in the eyes and hearts of our people,” he said.

A press release from Peguis issued Tuesday cites increased reports of self-harm, domestic violence and substance abuse in the last year. It notes the flood’s impact on children’s well-being has been especially pronounced, with 38 mental health crises reported between April 1, 2023 and March 1, 2024.

Patricia Caribou, who leads the Peguis Wellness Team, wants more autonomy from Indigenous Services Canada to address the issues.

“The answer is to allow Peguis to do what they see fit,” Caribou said. “Peguis has their own answer for all mental health, physical health, the whole holistic healing of the community.”

Mike Sutherland is the band’s director of special projects. He said the flooding is driven by farming in surrounding areas and a lack of regulation is part of the problem.

“Riparian areas, swamps and wetlands have been eliminated in the rural municipality south of us, and those things hold water right?” Sutherland said. “They’re there for a reason but yet because of agriculture, they’re all gone.”

While the community is part of a federal and provincial working group, Sutherland said they must prioritize crisis intervention over long-term prevention.

“How many times do we have to flood before they do anything? How many people have to die that are living out there, you know, overdose, or suicide, or people, elders dying while they’re away from home because they’re lonely? I mean, this has been our homeland for over 100 years,” Sutherland said.

After decades of fighting for action, Sutherland said Peguis no longer want studies – it wants solutions.

Contribute Button