Showdown in Shoal Lake - Minister hopeful talks will point the way to resolve issues
Posted February 3, 2012 - Jon Thompson
When her staff leaves Iskatewizaagegan First Nation (Shoal Lake 39) after Friday’s meetings, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Kathleen Wynne hopes compasses are aligned toward a common future.
High-level meetings are planned on the same day the First Nation intends to block snowmobile trails in the area around the reserve. It’s the first direct action in a series of planned legal and resistance measures to all forms of development in its traditional territory.
Wynne visited Shoal Lake when she was the Minister of Transportation and is familiar with the community’s opposition to highway twinning it says would jeopardize sacred sites and its threat to resist “by any and all means necessary.” The minister said her staff will take inventory of the broader scope of development concerns and explore common ground.
“My hope, as always, is that we can find a way to work through issues that are presenting themselves; that we can find a way to come to some mutually beneficial resolutions and help people in the community to get their needs met,” she said. “The second thing — and it’s related — is we’ve had ongoing conversation with the community, our ministry and other ministries. I want to use my role as the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs as faciliting ongoing dialogue. My hope is our officials will establish the direction the conversation needs to go.”
Wynne would not comment on Iskatewizaagegan’s insistence that it’s entitled to a veto on development projects based on the word “consent” appearing in the Treaty #3 document. Instead, she focused on relationship-building.
“I understand there will be ongoing conversations about the legal conversation,” she said. “Those are as they should be and my job is to make sure that we pay very close attention to fostering relationships because that’s how we’ll meet the needs of the children and all the residents of the community.”
Wynne’s ministry held meetings with the Ministry of Transportation on Thursday afternoon to share discussion on actions being taken to mitigate the issue.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation indicated its latest correspondence with Chief Eli Mandamin displayed willingness to explore other highway routes. The Ministry has also committed to assisting with an impact study and through an enhanced consultation process, hopes data from the community will inform a more acceptable route.
“We are committed to working with the community through these issues in a cooperative way through ongoing dialogue,” said regional communications officer Annemarie Piscopo.
Stephen Duda is the planning and information supervisor with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Kenora and an author of the Kenora Forest Plan. The first nation has indicated it will resist the plan, which includes several cuts between the reserve and the TransCanada Highway, and more further north. Duda said although the first nation was invited to the consultation process and offered a seat at the planning table. “They have chosen not to participate actively in the development of the Kenora Forest Management Plan,” he said. “They have not accepted the opportunities offered throughout the planning process. They don’t accept the existing process to recognize their rights, interests and titles within their traditional land and feel they haven’t been properly consulted with.”
MNR staff in Toronto have been looking into Iskatewizaagegan’s concern over Winnipeg selling Shoal Lake’s water to municipalities outside the Manitoban capital and are not yet ready to comment. The First Nation is preparing legal action against Winnipeg, asking for $124 million per year and has threatened to block Ash Rapids, drain Shoal Lake and cut off the city’s water supply.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell is also looking into the issue but was unavailable to comment.