Lake St. Martin First Nation is an Anishinaabe community situated in the Interlake region of Manitoba, Canada. In May 2011, the First Nation received a major death blow when the entire population–2000 men, women and children–was permanently displaced from their land by the Province of Manitoba. After being ripped away from their livelihoods, their health and their socio-cultural integrity, the community was dealt another blow: their interim school in Winnipeg was forced to close its doors.
The Manitoba government has been practicing a politics of displacement with Lake St. Martin First Nation. Rather than provide meaningful consultation or emergency relief, the province decided to flood-out the reserve in order to save some upstream cottagers and farmers with only an economic and recreational interest in the land.
More than a year later, the people of Lake St. Martin First Nation are still without homes. Dr. Myrle Ballard, a recent NRI doctoral graduate and Lake St. Martin First Nation community member, stated: “the community is still evacuated without a home – due to the government unilaterally deciding to relocate the community against their will to an old military base with no infrastructure. The community had focused their efforts to develop a walkable sustainable permanent settlement.” In the film “Flooding Hope: The Lake St. Martin Story” the people show their development plan for their “higher ground community” in which they move straight to permanent homes, bypassing an interim community with no future.
Flooding has a long history on Lake St. Martin. With the Fairford Dam that was built in 1961 and the Portage Diversion that followed ten years later, all farm land on the reserve was eventually turned into marsh. The flooding became critical in 2011/2012 when the local settlers’ agricultural land and cottages were saved by the Province. This film asks “Why would [the] Manitoba government use a water control structure to save upstream cottagers and farmers with only an economic and recreational interest in the land?” In a state of emergency, a $100 million dollar water channel was constructed adjacent to the Lake St. Martin First Nation reserve without any consultation or an environmental assessment.
Community members are suffering from the lack of meaningful consultation by the government. Dr. Shirley Thompson, an Associate Professor at the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Manitoba, expressed concern about how the lack of a long term strategy and support has resulted in additional suffering, with negative impacts that include a number of suicides. In October 2012, a fifteen year old girl committed suicide: “A health and needs assessment of the many communities impacted by floods in Manitoba is a critical step that still needs to be taken, starting with Lake St. Martin First Nation but including communities in the Interlake and the north. It’s late but not too late to do this.”
To begin to heal, this community needs a home that accommodates their cultural identity and provides adequate economic opportunities as well as infrastructure including a school and a church. The now-impoverished community is currently attempting to fundraise amongst themselves to buy a piece of land for such a community; unfortunately, they have so little left after the flood, and they have not received any compensation for their losses.
Help is needed. Come out Monday, November 26th at noon to the Manitoba provincial legislature – to see the film and to protest. This level of community suffering from the government’s displacement politics is clearly unjust and cannot be condoned.
For more information, please contact Dr. Shirley Thompson at S.Thompson@ad.umanitoba.ca
Article written by Dr. Myrle Ballard and Dr. Shirley Thompson and John Schertow.
Flooding Hope: The Lake St. Martin Story Documentary
“Flooding Hope: The Lake St. Martin Story” was directed by Dr. Myrle Ballard and directed by Dr. Shirley Thompson.