First Nations file claim over water pollution in Lake Winnipeg

Eight First Nations that surround Lake Winnipeg filed a joint lawsuit on Tuesday against the federal government, the province of Manitoba, and the City of Winnipeg over what they describe as the ongoing pollution of Lake Winnipeg and its tributaries such as the Red River.

In the claim, the nations are seeking $4 billion in damages from the three levels of government, or $500 million for each individual nation. The nations state that due to a deep spiritual connection with the water in Manitoba, they have a duty to protect the waterways and the life within it.

Chief Sheldon Kent from Black River First Nation says he and the other Chiefs involved in this claim are looking for accountability.

“If we’re dumping raw swage into the river, they [the provincial and federal governments] come down on us hard, with the inspectors and threatening fines,” Chief Kent said. “There’s nobody holding them accountable. So there’s a double standard that needs to be addressed.”

Story continues below advertisement

Chief Kent continued, saying how part of that accountability comes with the filing of this lawsuit.

The email you need for the day’s top news stories from Canada and around the world.

“The only way the government is going to listen is when they see the they see our legal statement,” explained Chief Kent. “We’re taking this to court, then they’ll talk to us. But it shouldn’t be like that, we should have a good relationship with the governments to have conversations.

That lack of conversations is also where Chief Gordon Bluesky of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation takes issue as well. Even though the treaties allowed a young Canada to develop and grow, he says there’s a lot that’s happened which isn’t covered.

More on Science and Tech

“From our perspective, we still have outstanding issues related to treaty,” Chief Bluesky said. “Our waters were not part of those discussions, and for people to think that the developments of these cities and towns included the right to destroy our water and environments? Well, they’re wrong.”

Maintaining and cleaning the water is a big part of reconciliation for Chief Bluesky.

“When we talk about reconciliation, I think it’s just for all levels of government to understand and Manitobans and Canadians, is a clean Lake Winnipeg. A healthy Lake Winnipeg,” Chief Bluesky said.

“That’s what reconciliation looks like for me. Reconciliation looks like a healthy community that we represent here, and also the opportunity for our children to do what they once did.”

Story continues below advertisement

Pollution has been an ongoing issue with major sewage spills occurring as recently as February of this year, when over 220 million litres of raw sewage entered the Red River when a pipe ruptured near the Fort Garry Bridge.

Global News reached out to all levels of government. The City of Winnipeg said in a statement that they are reviewing the statement of claim closely, and are working to determine next steps.

Both the federal and Manitoba governments acknowledged Global News’ request for comment, but have yet to send a full response.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.