Chiefs call for permanent protection for Peguis First Nation after historic flood

Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson called on the federal and provincial governments to put jurisdictional issues aside and fund permanent flood protection for the community following this spring’s historic inundation.

For the fifth time in less than two decades, the First Nation in Manitoba’s Interlake has faced severe flooding, causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and critical infrastructure, Hudson said.

This spring’s is the worst flooding in the First Nation’s history, said a news release from Peguis First Nation and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

Action is needed now to prevent future flooding, Hudson said at a Friday morning news conference.

“This kind of approach and systematic racism … it has to stop, in terms of the funding,” he said.

“We deserve drainage too, we deserve proper funding and we deserve proper roadways, just like any other Manitoban and Canadian.”

Hudson held the news conference in Winnipeg along with Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation Chief Rod Travers.

Nearly 1,900 people who have been forced to evacuate Peguis due to flooding are now living in hotels in Winnipeg, Gimli, Selkirk, Brandon and Portage la Prairie. 

Peguis First Nation, about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is the largest First Nation in Manitoba. 

In spite of major floods in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014, the First Nation still doesn’t have permanent flood protection for the roughly 3,000 people who live on-reserve.

Daniels pointed out that non-Indigenous communities in the Red River Valley now have flood protection and mitigation measures like ring dikes.

Municipal governments there are offered help from other levels of government to prepare for flooding and protect their communities, he said.

“When you see … that same funding not being extended to our First Nations communities, that’s blatant racism,” he said.

A May 9 aerial shot shows flooding around Peguis First Nation. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Provincial officials have promised to work with leaders in Peguis and with the federal government to improve flood protection in the community, a spokesperson for the provincial government said.

CBC News has also reached out to Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk, Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere and the federal government for comment.

Peguis First Nation was once located near present-day Selkirk, but was forced to move to its current location along the Fisher River in the early 1900s.

The First Nation is involved in two lawsuits over its flooding — a class-action filed by members of Peguis, which the First Nation is supporting, and one filed by band leaders themselves over the damage to critical infrastructure.

The provincial government spokesperson said they could not comment on the lawsuits because they are before the courts.

Hudson estimated that the total cost of flood damage over the past two decades amounts to $200 million. 

A permanent solution to flooding in the First Nation would cost $100 million, the First Nation has said.

The federal government has spent at least $24 million since 2006 to help Peguis First Nation fight and recover from floods, and prepare for future flooding on the Fisher River.

In a separate news conference on Friday, St. Boniface-St. Vital MP and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal said he spoke to Hudson last week. He said Hudson shared his flood mitigation plans with his office.

Vandal said he is committed to working in partnership with the First Nation, although he did not commit to any specific steps to address flooding.

“This is part of reconciliation as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

Hudson has called for a diversion channel, which he says would cost $90 million to build and would eliminate most of the flooding damage at Peguis.

The physical layout of Peguis makes measures like ring dikes unworkable.

A study conducted by engineering consultant AECOM Canada in 2006, and updated in 2015, looked at holding back water upstream, raising the level of homes, building dikes and excavating a diversion channel for the river. None of those options alone were deemed suitable for solving all of Peguis’s problems.