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Flooding Hope: Manitoba Displacement Politics towards Lake St. Martin First Nation

by on November 13, 2012

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. Without providing meaningful consultation, 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 or even emergency relief. Dr. Myrle Ballard, a 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 its will to an old military base with no infrastructure. The community had focused its 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.

Lake St. Martin’s proposed community site would cost a mere fraction of the $40 million the Province has already spent on the unsustainable interim community site

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 farmland on the reserve was eventually turned into marsh. The flooding became critical when the Province sacrificed the reserve for the local settlers’ agricultural land and cottages. This film poses a question that no government official seems prepared to answer: Why would the Manitoba government use a water control structure to save upstream cottagers and farmers 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. Speaking to Intercontinental Cry, Dr. Shirley Thompson, an Associate Professor at the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Manitoba, expressed concern about the lack of a long-term strategy and support, saying that it has resulted in additional suffering, with negative impacts that include a number of suicides, including one in October, 2012, when a 15-year-old girl took her own life.

“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,” said Thompson?. “It’s late but not too late to do this.”

To begin to heal from this ongoing trauma, the First Nation needs a home that accommodates its cultural identity and provides adequate economic opportunities as well as infrastructure, including a school and a church. The now-impoverished First Nation is currently attempting to raise the funds to buy a piece of land for such a community; unfortunately, there is so little left after the flood, and there has been no compensation for the community’s losses.

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

Flooding Hope: The Lake St. Martin Story” was directed by Dr. Myrle Ballard and directed by Dr. Shirley Thompson.

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