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First Nations Take Legal Action Against Government Over Lake Winnipeg Pollution

Press Release

May 1, 2024

Treaty One Territory – Eight First Nations bordering Lake Winnipeg have jointly filed a legal action against the Federal Crown, the Province of Manitoba, and the City of Winnipeg, addressing the ongoing pollution of Lake Winnipeg by the City of Winnipeg.

The First Nations involved in the claim filed in the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench are:

  • Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, represented by Chief Gordon Bluesky
  • Black River First Nation, represented by Chief Sheldon Kent
  • Poplar River First Nation, represented by Chief Vera Mitchell
  • Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation, represented by Chief E.J. Fontaine
  • Berens River First Nation, represented by Chief Hartley Everett
  • Hollow Water First Nation, represented by Chief Larry Barker
  • Misipawistik Cree Nation, represented by Chief Heidi Cook
  • Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation represented by Chief Tony Travers

The pollution of Lake Winnipeg and the Red River by the City of Winnipeg has been a recurring issue, with major sewage spills and continuous discharges of effluent into the waterways. The most recent incident occurred in February 2024, when over 221.2 million litres of raw sewage flowed into the Red River. This ongoing discharge, both treated and untreated, has caused extensive environmental damage and pollution, directly impacting the health and well-being of the First Nations’ citizens.

The legal action is not solely about addressing pollution; it also encompasses the fundamental rights of the First Nations, including their Charter Rights and Treaty Rights. It emphasizes the fiduciary duties owed by the defendants to the First Nations, underscoring the Honour of the Crown and the duty to consult on matters affecting their territories.

In the First Nations’ beliefs, water is sacred. Lake Winnipeg, known as Weenipagamiksaguygun in Ojibwe, is considered a living being with a spirit. Weenipagamiksaguygun has served the First Nations for generations as a source of ancestral knowledge, healing for the body and soul, and sustenance. The First Nations believe they have a duty to speak for Weenipagamiksaguygun and the life within it. Thus, they bring this action not just on their own behalf but also on behalf of Lake Winnipeg, given their deep spiritual and social connection with water.

Through this legal action, the First Nations aim to secure redress and compensation for financial and economic losses incurred due to the pollution. While pursuing legal recourse, they remain open to dialogue with all levels of government named as defendants, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the significant pollution of Lake Winnipeg for the benefit of all Manitobans, particularly the First Nations.

Quotes from Chiefs:

Chief Gordon Bluesky, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation: “Today, our First Nations stand united in legal action to protect our lands and waters, which are the lifeblood of our communities. Although we had hoped to avoid court, it’s crucial to recognize the profound importance of water to our people—it sustains us, connects us to our ancestors, and is integral to our cultural identity. Yet, despite our repeated pleas for protection, the government continues to disregard the devastating impacts on our nations and families. It’s time for meaningful action and accountability—for the government to acknowledge and address the harm inflicted and ensure the preservation of our precious resources for future generations.”

Chief Sheldon Kent, Black River First Nation: “These discharges of untreated wastewater and raw sewage are not only an environmental disaster; they are a betrayal of our trust and the legacy of our ancestors. Our lands, entrusted to us by treaty, are under siege, and our resources are being plundered without consequence. We will not stand idly by while our birthright is trampled upon. We demand justice and accountability.”

Chief Heidi Cook, Misipawistik Cree Nation: “The degradation of Mother Earth and our environment is not just a policy failure; it is a moral failure. Our waters and lands suffer when governments fail to uphold their fiduciary duties, respect First Nations’ rights, and honor treaties. We demand action, not empty promises. Our children deserve better, and we will fight to protect their future.”

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, AMC: “The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs supports the Chiefs involved in this claim, as it not only affects them but also other AMC member First Nations. In February, the AMC Chiefs-in-Assembly condemned the City of Winnipeg for its lack of urgency in addressing the issue of compromised infrastructure and preventing raw sewage from leaking into the Red River. The City’s failure to promptly communicate with the affected First Nations demonstrates a blatant disregard for the potential health and environmental impacts of the raw sewage leak. We continue to call on all levels of government to resolve this issue, as our sacred connection to the land and water must be respected.”

For more information, please contact:

Trippier Law
Attention: Faron Trippier
Email: Faron Trippier
Phone: 204:925-5302



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