Old-school approach will lead to exploitation

Posted on October 12th, 2007

By Don Sullivan

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

I do agree with Gerald Flood (East side story, from soap opera to farce, Oct. 7) that the east side story is important, deep and long-running and I suspect it will continue well into the future if outdated attitudes toward aboriginal rights continue to prevail.

However well-intentioned Mr. Flood might be toward the welfare of First Nations on the east side, his is a form of paternalism. Mr. Flood has an outlook that does not protect aboriginal rights or ensure that the socio-economic conditions of First Nations on the east side are addressed in any meaningful way.

Mr. Flood is old school. His desired outcome for the east side is to open up the entire region for mass exploitation. The construction of Bipole 3 without a meaningful consultation process with all community members would only hasten this objective while First Nations communities on the east side would be forced to watch, yet again, from the sidelines as others reap the economic benefits of all those vast, untapped natural resources just sitting there going to waste.

I think Mr. Flood’s mean-spirited attack on Eric Robinson’s cultural beliefs is offensive. Mr. Robinson, the MLA for Rupertsland, certainly does listen to his constituents and not just the few who might benefit from a particular development project. Certainly he is in a much better position to do so as one of only a few aboriginal persons elected to the Manitoba legislature, and is more qualified to do so than Mr. Flood.

The status report Promises to Keep produced by the East Side Planning Initiative in September 2004, a group that was made up of mostly east side indigenous people, clearly stated after much consultation that “there were few communities visited by the East Side Round Table and the First Nation Council members that did not have strong opinions and concerns about the possible future location of a hydro transmission corridor on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.”

I think Mr. Flood’s colonial attitude to both development and aboriginal rights was best expressed in the last sentence of his column when he stated First Nation “traditional” rights to use Crown land “prevents the government from developing those lands.”

These “traditional” rights to hunt, fish, and trap were negotiated between the Crown and First Nations through the treaty process and were further affirmed and enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. The struggle by First Nations in Manitoba to ensure that the Crown honours these rights before development proceeds has been ongoing since before Manitoba entered into Confederation.

In the end, the government of the day made a decision, not an easy one clearly, and I for one commend the government for that, as I am sure they will face many of the same obstacles and opposition to the construction of Bipole 3 down the west side as they would have if they had proceeded with the transmission corridor on the east side.

It is most fortunate for Mr. Flood, however, that democracy is a messy affair, or he would have nothing to write about — which may be a good thing in the end, but that is only my opinion.

Don Sullivan is the executive director of the Boreal Forest Network.