What to do with Lake St. Martin First Nation: Community, not leaders, should decide

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

The fate of Lake St. Martin First Nation should be up to the people who live there.

Apparently, band members are divided over a proposal to move the community to an interim village site, pending negotiations over a final settlement for the flooded community. The province has purchased private land near the current reserve that could be used for a permanent home.

Residents of Lake St. Martin First Nation face chronic flooding and members are currently being housed in hotel rooms.

The provincial government’s plan to build a temporary village, consisting of 157 mobile homes on an old radar base near Highway 6, is being opposed by the community’s chief, Adrian Sinclair.

Reports say Sinclair walked away from negotiations when the province did not agree to use a band-owned business to build the actual mobile homes.


Some immediately accused the chief of placing his own personal financial interest over that of the community. However, a new report indicates Lake St. Martin would receive 60% of the profits, not necessarily Sinclair. The private contractor would receive 40%.

People should not jump to conclusions, but whether this band-owned venture is set up so community members receive all the benefits is not known. This is an important issue, but it should not become more important than the critical matter of finding homes for community members.

For so long, First Nations in this country have been moved around to different places, often for motives unrelated to their own development. The choice of many reserve lands during treaty times was often less than stellar.

For once, they are actually being given a choice of where they wish to live, at least temporarily.

The problem is politics seems to be standing in the way. Concerns are being raised band residents are not truly expressing their preferences out of fear of opposing band leadership.

Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson told media he believes the “silent majority” of band members support a move to the interim village.

Apparently, at a meeting, Robinson asked for a show of hands to see who supported the move. A show of hands? How is that supposed to uncover the true democratic will of the community?

This reminds me of a time when I was a teacher’s assistant at Carleton University. I was required to be a member of CUPE and we were asked at a union meeting, where most unionized members were not in attendance, our opinions over a mandate to look into the possibility of strike action. We were asked to vote by a show of hands.

When I voted against looking into the possibility of a strike mandate, one of the union officials approached me to ask me about my vote. So democratic of them.

Members need a confidential way to express their preferences without fear of intimidation. It’s called a secret ballot and it’s the best means to gauge real opinion. Whatever the truth is regarding the chief’s decision to not negotiate with the province, that should not prevent the people of Lake St. Martin from making up their own minds.

They’ve been in hotel rooms for long enough.

It’s time for them to have their say.