Indigenous Government Relations News and Updates – May 2024

Lac Seul First Nation and Canada Settle Flooding Claim

The Lac Seul First Nation reached a historic settlement agreement with the Government of Canada on March 28, 2024, regarding the First Nation’s flooding claim. This settlement follows over 30 years of negotiations and litigation by Lac Seul seeking redress for the flooding of reserve lands without consent or compensation. The agreement, ratified by Lac Seul’s membership, entails Canada compensating the First Nation $234 million for breaching its fiduciary duty. The flooded lands will remain part of Lac Seul’s reserve. This settlement, coupled with Canada’s legal obligations and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, signifies a commitment to reconciliation and rebuilding trust with Indigenous communities.

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$234M settlement is ‘bittersweet,’ Lac Seul chief says 

Manitoba Partners with Federal Government on Red Dress Alert for Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

Canada and Manitoba have announced a partnership to launch a Red Dress Alert system, aimed at informing the public when Indigenous women or girls go missing. This initiative, announced ahead of a national day addressing the crisis, seeks to prevent deaths and increase safe reunions. Statistics Canada reported a disproportionately high homicide rate for Indigenous women and girls compared to non-Indigenous counterparts. A previous national inquiry revealed Indigenous women and girls were significantly more likely to go missing or be murdered. The Manitoba pilot project, funded by federal and provincial budgets, will be designed and led by Indigenous Peoples, potentially informing a national alert system. Advocates emphasize the importance of collaborative efforts to address the crisis and highlight the need for further action beyond the alert system. Despite previous calls to action and inquiries, progress in addressing the issue has been limited.

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Red Dress Alert pilot program launched in Manitoba 

National Council for Reconciliation Act Officially Becomes Law

The National Council for Reconciliation Act has been enacted, establishing the framework for the National Council for Reconciliation. Aimed at fulfilling several calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Act mandates an independent, Indigenous-led council to monitor and evaluate Canada’s progress toward reconciliation. It requires the council to develop a multi-year action plan, advocate for reconciliation, and assess federal laws impacting Indigenous peoples. Annual progress reports will be tabled in Parliament, ensuring accountability. The legislation received input from survivors and Indigenous organizations, with Minister Gary Anandasangaree emphasizing the importance of collective effort in reconciliation. The council will receive multi-year funding, as outlined in call to action 54, and its transitional committee will oversee the formation of the first board.

 

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Justin Trudeau Announces Commissioner to Oversee Modern Indigenous Treaties

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the establishment of a new independent body to oversee modern treaties with Indigenous nations. The commissioner for modern treaty implementation will report directly to Parliament, reviewing the federal government’s actions and ensuring accountability regarding modern treaty obligations. The office will receive $10.6 million in funding over four years. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree compared the commissioner’s role to that of the auditor general. The Land Claims Agreements Coalition co-chairs expressed support for the oversight body, emphasizing the importance of accountability to Parliament in fulfilling treaty promises. Annual reports by the commissioner will highlight areas needing government attention to fulfill treaty agreements. Legislation to establish the commissioner’s office is expected to be introduced in Parliament by the end of June, building on the federal government’s modern treaty implementation policy developed in consultation with Indigenous partners. Since the 1970s, 26 modern treaties have been signed, with 18 including self-government provisions.

 

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8 First Nations Filing $4 Billion Lawsuit Regarding Lake Winnipeg Pollution

Eight First Nations bordering Lake Winnipeg have filed a $4 billion lawsuit against the Federal Crown, the Province of Manitoba, and the City of Winnipeg, alleging ongoing pollution of the lake by the city. The lawsuit follows a massive sewage leak earlier this year, which resulted in roughly 221 million litres of raw sewage flowing into the Red River and subsequently into Lake Winnipeg. The First Nations assert that they have been concerned about the lake’s health for years and emphasize the need for preventative and disaster mitigation plans. The claim seeks compensation for financial and economic losses incurred due to the pollution, with each First Nation requesting $500 million. While pursuing legal action, the chiefs stress the urgency of addressing Lake Winnipeg’s pollution for the benefit of all Manitobans, particularly First Nations already experiencing its effects. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Tracy Schmidt acknowledges the seriousness of the situation and expresses the government’s commitment to improving the lake’s health.

Manitoba First Nation sues three levels of government over lack of flood protection

Peguis First Nation, a Manitoba community repeatedly affected by flooding, is suing the federal and provincial governments as well as nearby municipalities for failing to adequately protect them from flood damage. The lawsuit alleges that governments diverted water to improve drainage, exacerbating flooding on the reserve’s land. Peguis seeks $1 billion in damages for decades of flooding-related issues. The community, relocated over a century ago to the marshy Fisher River delta, has faced increasingly severe and frequent floods due to upstream land drainage and conversion of forests and wetlands into agricultural land. Talks with governments regarding flood protection have yielded little progress. The most recent major flood in 2022 forced over 2,000 residents to evacuate and left hundreds of homes damaged. The federal government has provided some assistance for flood-proofing homes but has not implemented comprehensive flood prevention measures such as a large dam or ring dike.

 

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BC First Nations Leadership Council Praises Haida Land Title Agreement

The First Nations Leadership Council has commended the Haida “Rising Tide” land agreement, which grants the Haida Nation title over their traditional territory and sets up a government-to-government process with British Columbia. The agreement, which was praised for proactive collaboration rather than litigation, is seen as a significant step towards implementing Indigenous land stewardship. Political executive Robert Phillips highlighted the importance of moving beyond basic recognition to action and noted the agreement’s potential to influence treaty negotiations and align with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Council hopes similar agreements will be reached at the federal level. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip also celebrated the agreement as a step towards addressing colonial harms and creating a path forward.

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Cenovus Energy Teams Up with Alberta First Nations to Build Homes Amid Housing Crisis

The Chard Métis Nation in northern Alberta faced a housing crisis, with many residents living in inadequate conditions, including President Raoul Montgrand, who lived in a camper trailer for almost two years. Cenovus Energy Inc.’s Indigenous Housing Initiative, launched in 2020, pledged $50 million to build homes in Indigenous communities near its oilsands operations. Over 120 homes have been funded, with Chard Métis Nation receiving close to half of the 650 new homes by the program’s end. Cenovus Executive Chair Alex Pourbaix expressed shock at the housing situation in Indigenous communities, leading to the initiative’s creation. Indigenous communities decide how to procure and administer the homes under the program. Despite challenges like remote locations and infrastructure costs, the initiative aims to empower Indigenous communities and address the ongoing Indigenous housing crisis. Chard Métis Nation CEO Justin Herman highlighted the profound impact of providing new homes to community members.

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