Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde fully supports the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC) in its demand that the Government of Manitoba halt all work on the Outlet Channel Project around Lake St. Martin. IRTC states that an agreement with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister to consult with First Nations that is not being honoured.

The Lake St. Martin Outlet and Lake Manitoba Outlet Channel flood protection project consists of two 23-kilometre long outlet channels with associated control structures and bridge crossings. It is intended to include the construction of an 80-kilometre all-weather access road and a 24kV transmission line to the Lake St. Martin outlet channel control structure.

“I fully support the position of Interlake Reserves Tribal Council that the Government of Manitoba consult with the First Nations affected by the Outlet Channel Project,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “The construction of the Outlet directly affects their lands and livelihoods and that means First Nations have a right to be consulted. We must ensure these rights are respected, upheld and honoured by the Crown, and that includes the right to free, prior, and informed consent as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

In 2017, Premier Pallister promised that consultations with Indigenous communities on the Outlet Channels Project would be the most comprehensive in the history of Manitoba, and committed to the affected communities that they would share in the economic opportunities arising from construction of the project. The IRTC has discovered a 23-kilometre route in the Interlake was cleared in preparation for a channel from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg, but were not informed by the Government of Manitoba and are not aware if the necessary approvals were obtained.

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“Despite a written agreement, the Government of Manitoba has stopped all funding for consultations with the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council and our member communities,” said IRTC Chairman and Chief Cornell McLean of Lake Manitoba First Nation. “Since January 2018, the province’s actions don’t look like the actions of a government that has a genuine commitment to consult with Indigenous communities.”

“The Government of Manitoba illegally cleared the right-of-way for the channel, even before the environmental assessment has been filed, and they refuse to start the necessary traditional land use studies,” said Karl Zadnik, chief executive officer of IRTC.

“We have been pushing for more than a year for resources to start the studies necessary to assess the impacts of the Channels Project on our Treaty and Aboriginal rights,” said Chief Cornell McLean. “These studies must be included in Environmental Impact Statement. Without these studies, the Project cannot move forward. We do not understand why the Province is refusing to undertake these studies. We are tired of attending meetings where nothing is moving forward and we are fed platitudes by the province, with actions on the ground that don’t match. Frankly, the province is setting itself up for failure on this Channel Project.”

The IRTC says there has been no funding for Traditional Land Use (TLU) studies or consultations with First Nations for about two years. The TLU studies are required by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to proceed with the work on the Outlet Channel Project. The IRTC states that Right of Way clearing and other work has taken place prior to impact assessment without any consultation with First Nations.

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Header Image Credit: Tony Webster.

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