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Fisher River Cree Nation Chief & Council continue of the mandate of protecting the community’s history, language, traditions, and culture and the well-being of their people. 

Peat Moss Mining

An injunction sought against the province and a multinational corporation could stall peat mining and resource development in the Interlake.

Court documents filed in October show Fisher River Cree Nation is seeking to halt further development by Sunterra Horticulture of its peat mining operation around Beaver Creek, located along the northwest side of Lake Winnipeg.

The First Nation charges in the documents that further development of the land by Sunterra will cause “irreparable damage,” deplete the moose population and affect the health of Lake Winnipeg.

“In terms of environmental impact, it (the mining) will have a long-lasting effect on Lake Winnipeg, it will have an impact on the fisheries, wildlife population, basically it destroys habitat when they do these types of developments,” Fisher River Chief David Crate told the Free Press.

“For example, once peat mining is completed on a section, it is estimated it will take well over 100 years for the habitat to recover.”

Fisher River is also seeking to prevent future environmental licences being granted in the east Interlake area until the province properly consults First Nations about the developments and a proper environmental assessment of the land is conducted, according to the statement of claim filed Oct. 17.

Sworn affidavits from representatives of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and Beaver Creek Cottage Association voice similar concerns about the economic impact of the expansion.

Sunterra has been attempting to expand its operations around Beaver Creek since 2011, when it applied for an environmental licence.

The proposed development covers about 1,600 acres and is located about 60 kilometres north of Riverton.

The expansion is located within the territories of Bloodvein River First Nation and Fisher River First Nation.

The environmental licence was approved in 2015, a provincial decision Fisher River appealed. After 18 months of no response from the province, the First Nation said it had no choice but to take the issue to court.

Crate alleges that despite the appeal, Sunterra continues to conduct mining activity in the proposed development area.

“We are hoping the court will consider the injunction and will ask for more in-depth research in the area. One of the things we are hoping for the judge to just cancel the licence altogether,” said Crate.

Representatives from both sides are expected to appear in court Feb. 6, at which time a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench will consider the motion asking for an injunction against Sunterra’s current and future activities.

The lawyer representing Sunterra declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The province and Sunterra have not filed a statement of defence.

Officials with the province said they cannot comment specifically on the proposed Sunterra development because it is before the courts.

Bifrost–Riverton Coun. Colin Bjarnason has been a strong supporter of the expansion, arguing it will bring jobs to an area with few employment opportunities.

The development is worth 25 jobs to the area.

“What Fisher River is trying to do is unbelievable. I think they should just leave well enough alone,” he said.

“(The industry) can only get bigger as they (companies) expand… Companies have to meet environmental standards, they get checked, the same as a municipality. You aren’t going to jeopardize your business,” he said.

What is peat?

-Peat is decomposed plants (usually Sphagnum moss) that resemble a compost-like material. It forms in poorly-drained areas with low-oxygen (anaerobic) levels. In nature, it can take thousands of years for peat to form because anaerobic conditions prevent the rapid breakdown of plant material.

-The International Institute for Sustainable Development released a report in 2015 stating that peat mining had accounted for 3 per cent of total greenhouse gases released in Manitoba, and there is no way to reduce the release of these gases.

-The Manitoba government ended its four-year moratorium on the development of new peat mines in the province last year.

What is the state of peat mining in Manitoba?

-There are currently several active peat mine sites in Manitoba, operated by several different peat producers. The main peat producers in Manitoba are Sun Gro Horticulture, Premier Tech Horticulture, FPM Peat Moss, Jiffy, Berger and Sunterra.

-The majority of active peat mine sites are located in Southeast Manitoba, with a few in the Interlake. Many peat producers are looking to expand activity further into the Interlake and along the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

-The industry is believed to have had an impact to Manitoba’s gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $30 million per year, including supporting about 150 direct jobs.

-Manitoba has approximately 17 per cent of Canada’s peatlands, which is where peat moss is developed and can be mined for use as a soil conditioner, among other uses.

-Peat is also a key ingredient in whisky production.

-Peatlands cover 19.2 million hectares of Manitoba, representing almost a third of the province.

Source: Province of Manitoba

Province of Manitoba withdrawals from Freshwater Fish Marketing Act

Federal and provincial NDP politicians held a press conference Dec. 9 to express their support for Manitoba fishers who fear that enabling withdrawal from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) may result in some fishers losing their livelihoods.

“Fishing is an integral part of the culture and local economy of many indigenous communities, but the Pallister government is ignoring their concerns,” said Rob Altemeyer, NDP MLA for Wolseley. “If the Pallister government continues on its present course, these communities will lose their livelihoods and the fishing industry will end up in the hands of a few large outfits.”

The provincial government announced in August that Manitoba’s freshwater fishers will soon have the option of marketing their products outside of the province themselves following the province informing the federal government that it will be withdrawing from its participation agreement under the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act. Fishers will still have the option of selling their fish via the FFMC, a federal Crown corporation, if they choose to, the province said.

Langford Saunders, president of the Norway House Fisherman’s Co-operative, says letting fishers withdraw could doom fishers like him.

“The fishing industry is going to collapse if the government continues with its headlong pursuit of pulling out of the single desk,” said Saunders. “We can’t survive if we have no way to market our fish.”

Commercial fisheries, mainly on Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Manitoba, as well as some smaller operations, generate about $21 million of income for Manitoba fishers annually through the sale of walleye, goldeye, northern pike, sauger, lake whitefish and lake trout to buyers in the United States, Europe, Israel and China. The largest single commercial fishing operation in the province is the Norway House Fisherman’s Co-op, which includes nearly 50 full-time fishers and catches about one million kilograms of fish per year.

The Pas NDP MLA Amanda Lathlin said making the decision to pull of the FFMC without consulting fishers is likely a violation of their indigenous rights and that there is no plan to protect small fishers and isolated communities if the FFMC folds as a result of larger fishing operating withdrawing.

“The premier’s chosen consultation group has admitted that their mission is a sham because the government had already made up its mind about leaving the corporation,” Lathlin said. “And while the premier claims he only wants to offer fishers more choices, that too, is a sham. We saw what happened to small grain growers when their marketing board was killed and to the small hog producers when theirs was killed. They went out of business.”

The provincial government announced Oct. 17 that it has hired Signature Mediation as its fisheries envoy to help develop a way for Manitoba commercial fishers to withdraw from the FFMC and sell their catch independently.

The envoy will be responsible for consulting with fishing communities, indigenous groups and businesses to identify issues and opportunities as well as identifying new regulations, policies and systems that will be needed to create a new marketing avenue. The envoy will also help establish processes for fisheries management, such as catch and sales reporting requirements, and make contact with private-sector organizations that want to develop fish-processing facilities and marketing co-operatives.

Meetings with fishers have been held in various Manitoba communities, including several in the north such as Thompson, Leaf Rapids, Norway house, Grand Rapids and The Pas and Signature Mediation is expected to present a final report with recommendations to the province in the spring.

“The Pallister government pretends it’s following the will of fishers as it proceeds with its plan to pull out of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation,” said Niki Ashton, Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP. “But this government is only listening to a small number of loud voices. The vast majority of fishers want to keep the single-desk marketing system. Pallister is ignoring their concerns.”

The FFMC was formed in 1969 to purchase and market freshwater fish from across Canada in an effort to ensure fair prices and stable market for fishers no matter how small their operation. It purchases fish from inland fishers mainly in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

WATCH: Fisher River Cree Nation/Provincial Envoy Fisheries Meeting – December 2, 2016

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