First Nations mull legal action against province

By Miranda Leybourne

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Manitoba First Nations are threatening to take legal action against the provincial government to stop Crown lands from being auctioned off for agricultural purposes.

Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), is calling on the province to discontinue online auctions this week, and all future auctions, until an agreement can be made with First Nations.

The current Crown land auction system, wherein agricultural producers can bid to lease land from the province, is a violation of treaty agreements and a breach of the government’s obligation to First Nations, Merrick said. It also prevents First Nations people from exercising their right to traditional practices such as hunting, fishing and trapping.

“We seek a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal and provincial governments  we hope that the government will co-operate with First Nations to move forward in a good way,” Merrick said.

The province is a signatory to the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) Framework Agreement, which states First Nations are required to receive first option to acquire public land that comes up for sale, including when the lands are intended to be leased or permitted. The province signed the framework agreement in 1997, which stated that more than one million acres of land would be transferred to First Nations.

The AMC is currently exploring all legal options should the province not prove co-operative in ceasing Crown land auctions, Merrick said.

“We believe that there are multiple grounds by which First Nations in Manitoba may take legal action against the province for its infringement of our inherent and treaty rights,” she said.

“The province has a long way to go to reach reconciliation with First Nations in what is now Manitoba. Their current actions have certainly not helped.”

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), which represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations in southern Manitoba, agreed.

As the Sun previously reported, Daniels has lobbied the province over Crown land auctions for more than a year. The Manitoba government has upheld the “minimal standard” for reconciliation, which is reflected in its refusal to back down on Crown lands auctions, Daniels said.

Thousands of acres of land are still owed to First Nations under the TLE agreement, and it’s not an issue that’s currently being addressed by Premier Heather Stefanson, he added.

“Where is her plan for resolving the hundreds of thousands of acres that are currently owed  to First Nations,’ Daniels said.

“I would be willing to bet she doesn’t have a plan. And if she doesn’t have a plan, that means she doesn’t care about it.”

When the Sun contacted the office of Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson this week, press secretary Ross Romaniuk referred back to a statement sent to the Sun earlier this month.

The TLE consultation process is being followed with Crown land auctions, and that notice was given to First Nations within the TLE community interest zone 120 days in advance of this week’s auctions.

“Our government is committed to ongoing dialogue with First Nations leadership regarding resource management and the use and allocation of Crown lands,” the statement read.

According to the federal government’s treaty land establishment website, Ottawa is currently working with First Nations in Manitoba to meet outstanding treaty land entitlement obligations.

 Miranda Leybourne is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the

BRANDON SUN. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.


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