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Peguis First Nation launches $1B flood damages lawsuit against feds, province and 2 municipalities

April 24, 2024

First Nation, forcibly displaced in 1907, claims government failed to provide safe place to live

A sign is pictured above flood waters.
The Peguis First Nation sign is surrounded by flood waters in May 2022. The First Nation, which has been struggling for more than a century to recover from a forced relocation to a flood-prone area of Manitoba’s Interlake, has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in flood damages from Ottawa, Manitoba and two municipalities. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

CBC News: Peguis First Nation has filed a $1-billion flood-damages lawsuit against the federal government, the provincial government and two municipalities located upstream of the Ojibway and Cree community in Manitoba’s northern Interlake.

In a statement of claim filed before the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on Tuesday, Peguis — the largest First Nation in Manitoba by population, with a registered population of nearly 12,000 — is seeking compensation for financial losses and other damages that occurred during a series of floods along the Fisher River, the worst of which occurred in 2022.

The First Nation is seeking damages for all losses connected to the flood, as well as damages for all expenses it incurred fighting the flood and cleaning up after it, except for those already reimbursed by the federal government, according to the claim.

Peguis is also seeking damages caused by “breach of duty and care and negligence” in failing to prevent or remedy the 2022 flood, “which has made living conditions on the reserve land … intolerable and which led to a wholesale evacuation,” the claim states.

In a statement, Peguis Chief Stan Bird said the estimated cost of repairing, replacing or relocating approximately 500 flood-affected homes is more than $275 million.

A home on Peguis First Nation is surrounded by a Tiger dam and floodwaters.
This Peguis home was surrounded by floodwaters in 2022 and later condemned. (Submitted by Melissa Sanderson)

Approximately 550 Peguis community members are still not able to return to the community due to the 2022 flood, while a further 235 are living off-reserve due to floods in 2014 and 2017, he added.

In a subsequent interview, Bird said years of discussions about flood protection and flood recovery failed to yield tangible action from the federal and provincial governments.

“We’re at the table talking, and with no clear solution in sight, it’s more talk, so we need to look after our own interests as a people and as a community,” he said.

In the statement of claim, Peguis calls for Canada and Manitoba to declare the two governments breached their treaty obligations by not providing the First Nation with “a sustainable and tolerable living environment, safe and secure from flooding disasters, through adequate permanent flood protection for the reserve land.”

Peguis also wants the federal government to declare it will fulfil its promise to build adequate flood protection at the reserve. The First Nation is seeking an injunction requiring Canada to build that flood protection or provide funds that will allow it to proceed, according to the statement of claim.

Two people wade in water as they place sandbags in a line around a house.
People sandbag a home in Peguis First Nation on May 6, 2022, after the Fisher River spilled its banks, flooding a broad area of Manitoba’s low-lying northern Interlake region. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

As well, Peguis is seeking damages from the rural municipalities of Fisher and Bifrost-Riverton for allowing land drainage changes to occur that affected Peguis downstream, according to the claim.

“There’s been a substantial reduction in water storage through the loss of wetlands and forest lands and an improvement in drainage, which essentially accelerates and exacerbates the flooding problems,” said Brian Meronek, legal counsel for Peguis.

Peguis First Nation has struggled for more than a century to receive compensation for the lands it lost after European settlers arrived in the province. 

Its reserve lands once included fertile agricultural tracts at St. Peter’s, along the Red River, in what’s now the rural municipality of St. Clements. In 1907, the First Nation was forced to surrender that land and move to a flood-prone area of the northern Interlake.

In a treaty land entitlement agreement in 2008, Peguis received $64 million, plus a commitment of 167,000 acres (about 67,500 hectares) of both Crown and private land. The following year, the federal government paid Peguis $126 million to settle the illegal surrender of the reserve property northeast of Selkirk.

Bird said the history of displacement and flooding has led to misery for his community.

“We just want Manitobans and Canadians to recognize the situation that we were put in, and it’s not by our own doing,” he said. “It’s something that we have to face and try to deal with every year.”

Defendants decline or defer comment

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, speaking on behalf of Justice Minister Matt Wiebe, declined comment Wednesday.

“We don’t talk about matters before the courts,” the premier said.

Larissa Love, chief administrative officer of the RM of Bifrost-Riverton, deferred comment pending a meeting with the municipality’s council.

Shannon Pyziak, reeve of the RM of Fisher, said in an emailed statement that the matter has been referred to the municipality’s insurer.

CBC News requested comment from the federal Justice Ministry and Minister Arif Virani, who is named in the claim. A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry deferred comment to Indigenous Services Canada, which provided a statement saying the government has received Peguis’s statement of claim.

The department is continuing to work with Peguis on its flooding issues, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu has signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize long-term flood protection for the First Nation, spokesperson Carolane Gratton said in the statement.

From May 2022 to March 2023, Indigenous Services provided approximately $18 million to Peguis First Nation for flood response and recovery, “including advance payments made to ease the burden of the First Nation’s cash flow and to support 2023 flood preparation,” Gratton said.

Manitoba First Nation files $1B lawsuit for flood damages against 3 levels of government

15 hours ago, Duration 2:11

Peguis First Nation has filed a $1-billion flood damages lawsuit against the federal government, the provincial government and two municipalities located upstream of the Ojibway and Cree community in Manitoba’s northern Interlake.

Click on the following link to view the video:


Bartley Kives, Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He’s the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.

With files from Ian Froese