Lake St. Martin, Manitoba, is a hotbed (and a floodbed) of Aboriginal activism today, amid blockades over measures to open an emergency channel to help drain the overfilled lake after devastating flooding across Manitoba.
At issue is the portage diversion, which when opened prevents water from flooding from the Assiniboine River to the Red River Valley, instead diverting it in a long channel, and eventually emptying its water-based load into Lake Manitoba.
Pinaymootang fisherman, however, are protesting the opening of the emergency channel, arguing that they shouldn’t have to put up with debris and floodwater ripping through their territory for the sake of southern cities like Winnipeg. The Pinaymootang are prepared to sit down to hash out a deal (which would presumably involves diverting less water than the Emergency Measures Minister requires).
The Manitoban government has threatened legal action, and the First Nations don’t have significant legal ground to stand on. The most recent legal precedent is the Supreme Court of Canada case last month, where the Tsilhqot’in were granted the legal “right to control” over their ancestral territory, unless there exists a compelling government interest, which Manitoba would certainly argue for here. It looks like the Pinaymootang aren’t just up shit’s creek, but that it’s rushing towards them.
In the short term, there isn’t much that either party can do. The emergency channel exists where it does, and the government has the choice of ruining the Pinaymootang fishing industry, or flooding the homes of southern Manitobans in a particularly grueling flooding season.
Perhaps the Pinaymootang wish to renegotiate the location of the channel, and are using the flooding as a pretense to get a seat at the table. When natural disasters strike, there are seldom winners and only losers, but here’s hoping that both sides can channel their energies and find an amicable resolution.