Thursday, August 21, 2014
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First Nations fishers block opening of emergency channel

Sheila North Wilson, CTV Winnipeg

Fishing is a way of life for Norman Traverse, a way of life he and others from Interlake First Nations communities have relied on for generations.

"It’s not just a livelihood; it's part of our culture - the way we were brought up and the way we make our living," said Traverse.

But camping on a man-made diversion isn't part of that culture. Traverse and others feel they have no other choice to save a fishing industry they say is being threatened by water diverted into the lake through the Portage Diversion.

"I told them to stop digging…they listened to me and they quit digging,” added Traverse.

The channel and protest camp are about 280 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Last week, the province began work to open the Lake St. Martin channel. But Traverse and others were there to stop them.

All that water, fishermen say, flowing from the south takes with it large amounts of debris, sending it down the channel into the fishermen’s traditional fishing territory.

The province, however, said the channel needs to be opened to curb flooding.

"We need to open the Lake St. Martin outlet. We have contacted the RCMP," said Steve Ashton, the province’s minister responsible for emergency measures.

By blocking the opening of the channel, Ashton said the action of the fishers is keeping lake levels higher than they should be.

"We need to protect Manitobans. We need to get that outlet to maximum capacity," said Ashton.

Right now, the province said that outlet is operating at 80 per cent capacity. Protestors said it's more like 30 per cent.

RCMP have already contacted Pinaymootang First Nation Councillor Derrick Gould, who is also a commercial fisherman and cattle rancher.

He said the fishermen are willing to sit down with governments to come up with a resolution that works for everyone, not just southerners.

If not, campers will remain at the site, he said.

"I told them at the meeting, if it means my life that has to be taken to protect my people, that's what I will do," said Gould.

Fishermen say they're losing millions of dollars’ worth of fish and spawn that get flushed down the channel to die in swamp areas and they say the province has not addressed the ramifications of the 2011 flood that devastated four Interlake First Nations communities.

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