For the second time in six months the province of Manitoba was nowhere to be seen during community meetings on a large flood protection project.
Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC) hosted a panel over the weekend on the Lake Manitoba-Lake St. Martin outlet channels with hopes of finally sharing concerns with someone from government.
“We want to make one message very clear: the province and the federal government need to be working with us as genuine partners, strategic partners from the moment of the conception or the development on an idea around any sort of land development or investment,” said Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
This is the second time the IRTC hosted a panel on the $540 million project. The first one was held in Ashern, a rural community northwest of Winnipeg, last summer. At that time no one from the province attended despite the IRTC saying they sent invitations.
APTN News asked the province then why no one attended, but did not get an answer.
The group represents six communities in the Interlake region of the province, including the four impacted due to a government decision to flood the First Nations to divert water from Winnipeg.
It’s that disaster that prompted the province to develop the outlet project.
Daniels says Manitoba hasn’t properly consulted any of the communities, but he argues the province should be looking for consent from the First Nations otherwise government will try to “limit the amount of liability from First Nations,” while also move the project forward.
The project will see two permanent 23-kilometre diversion channels built along Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.
It will also involve construction of two bridges and adjustments to highway infrastructure.
First Nations believe changes will effect commercial fishing in the area.
“It changes the ecosystem when you start to open up waterways and change the direction of water,” said Daniels.
“There lots of fish habitats that are affected by this.”
Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke was supposed to attend the panel but had to cancel due to illness.
Days after she said the federal government is currently conducing environmental assessments.
“It’s a process. It comes in steps. We’ve got a long way to go,” she told APTN.
Clarke expects more thorough consultations will be completed at a later date.
The province engaged with all 39 Indigenous communities and groups that could have potential impacts from the outlet project, a government spokesperson wrote in an email.
“Currently, the project is in the environmental impact statement stage, which is currently with the federal government. Once that is complete and there is a plan to show communities, it will be advance to technical review/formal consultation.”
Karl Zadnik, executive director for IRTC, told the panel the group signed a consultation agreement with the province in 2017, but since then has not heard from officials.
The federal government has committed to cost-sharing the project up to $247.5 million through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund with the province matching the amount plus an additional $45 million in order to complete the project.
A spokesperson for Infrastructure Canada told APTN that Canada is working with the province to “finalize the contribution agreements for the project, while the federal review process under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act continues.”
They declined to comment further saying additional details could “impact the negotiation process.”