After nearly a century of having their burial sites eroded and washed away from illegal flooding, the Lac Seul First Nation community is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1929, the Ear Falls Dam was built to supply hydroelectric power to Ontario and Manitoba, but flooded over 11,000 acres of Lac Seul First Nation’s reserve lands and burial sites that same year.

Historical records show that Canada knew that the First Nation’s 1,400 to 1,500 grave sites would be damaged before the flooding actually occurred, and the community has been raising their concerns to Canada since the mid 1920’s.

The flooding is continuing to expose, erode and wash-away current burial sites and earlier this year, the community’s council confirmed that further burial sites are still at immediate risk of exposure, which causes significant community suffering and trauma.

“I would like to wish Chief (Clifford) Bull and Lac Seul First Nation well in the hearing this week,” said Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh.

“The role of treaties in cases such as this has often been overlooked by the courts and an injustice felt by one community in Treaty #3 is felt by all of us. I want the people of Lac Seul to know the Nation stands with them,” the grand chief said in a media release. 

Grand Council Treaty #3 holds intervener status in the case to highlight the role of treaties in assessing equitable compensation and the importance of applying established treaty interpretation principles when considering rights and obligations in the context of Crown-Indigenous relationships.

Lawyers for the community will be making arguments before the court tomorrow, while a virtual ceremony takes place in Kenora today at 2 p.m., and members of the Grand Council Treaty #3 are asking residents to send prayers and light pipes in solidarity with Lac Seul at that time.

The case between Lac Seul First Nation and Roger Southwind was before the Federal Court, where the community was awarded $30 million, after seeking over $500 million.

In a summary of the case posted by the Supreme Court of Canada, the court said the Crown did not seek Lac Seul’s consent to surrender their reserve land. The community was also denied assistance from the federal government to address the issue in both 2006 and 2011.

Manitoba Hydro and Ontario Power Generation continue to use Lac Seul’s water storage reservoir to regulate water levels and to produce electricity, but when Lac Seul asked them for assistance with the flooding issue, they did not hear back.

In 1977, former Lac Seul First Nation Chief Percy Ningewance presented the issue publicly before the Royal Commission on the Northern Environment.

“Everyday, of every month, for the past few years, the remains of my forefathers have been washing up from their sacred burial grounds. There they sit on the edge of our lake, disturbed from what was to have been their eternal resting place,” the chief said in his submission.

“The remains act as a constant reminder that Indians pay a harsh price when the white man and the white man’s power visit the land of my people...We were never given full compensation for the flooding,” he added in his submission.

“And were never given the resources to move our ancestor’s graves and save them from a watery destruction...none of us understood that our sacred burial grounds would be mangled and destroyed. We were never told,” he continued. 

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country, and the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. Litigants can appeal decisions made by provincial, territorial or federal courts.

For more information:
Lac Seul calls for action on flooded burial sites
Lac Seul appeals land claim to Supreme Court

Counsel sheet hearing (Dec. 8 at 9:30 a.m.)

Scheduled hearing (includes link to webcast)