By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
The Southern Chiefs Organization says critics have greatly exaggerated the number of homes in flood-damaged Lake St. Martin that were sold off instead of being demolished as planned.
Grand Chief Terry Nelson said Tuesday only three condemned homes were sold off -- not 49 -- and they were sold with the tenants’ permission.
The federal government struck a deal to pay nearly $2 million to have 133 homes in the Interlake community destroyed, following extensive damage to the area during a flood in May 2011. Before some of the homes could be demolished, however, 49 of the buildings were allegedly sold off by the chief and council for $20,000 each.
Nelson said the allegations are without merit.
He said the three homes he’s tracked were sold for closer to $10,000 apiece before they were moved off the reserve.
He also suggested the tempest is politically motivated, as rival sides gear up for a band election at Lake St. Martin in June.
Adrian Sinclair, chief of Lake St. Martin, has yet to face public questions over the scandal, only saying he hasn’t done anything wrong and he has the legal right to sell off the damaged homes, The Canadian Press reported.
A statement put out by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada last week said payments to local contractors on the First Nation had been suspended until the allegations had been investigated. About $1.2 million has already been paid out. Approximately 80 of the 133 homes have already been destroyed.
RCMP investigation welcomed
Nelson said he’d "welcome an RCMP investigation" and he’s convinced the authorities would find nothing to prosecute.
"The central issue for me as grand chief is I do not want these accusations to be a detriment to the federal offer that must be made; three years later people are still suffering, the people in the communities are still out," Nelson told a press conference Tuesday.
"This is what angers me now: the difference between how the non-native people in the 1997 flood were treated and the native people (in the 2011 flood). Go down Highway 200 on the east side of the Red River and see. All the farm properties were either raised or they have a dyke. Every one of those families have been protected."
Yet, Nelson said, for the four First Nations flooded in 2011, there has been no settlement, only an endless argument over who’s to blame for what happened.
The other First Nations flooded in 2011 – Pinaymootang, Little Saskatchewan and Dauphin River – see this latest scandal over Lake St. Martin as another excuse to stall compensation all four are owed, Nelson said.