First Nations and Tribal Communities within the Basin
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Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin
Lake Winnipeg is the 3rd largest lake in Canada and the 10th largest lake in the world. Lake Winnipeg is vital to the health of this region. Despite the size, Lake Winnipeg is a rather shallow lake, with an average depth of 12 metres.
Its watershed, is an area of land where all the surface waters, rivers, creeks, and streams drain into Lake Winnipeg and is about 40 times larger than the lake surface itself. The Lake Winnipeg Basin extends over almost 1,000,000 square kilometres and receives water from four Canadian provinces Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario and four US states Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The length of this watershed means that activities taking place at the outer edge of the basin (for example, in Edmonton) will impact the Basin and Lake Winnipeg.
First Nations people have occupied the rivers and shores of Lake Winnipeg Basin for more than 8,000 years. Our descendants still live on the banks of the rivers and the shores of the lake.
Within this Basin, there lies 10 different Canadian First Nation Treaties: Treaty 1, Treaty 2, Treaty 3, Treaty 4, Treaty 5 (1875), Treaty 6 (1876-78), Treaty 6 (1889), Treaty 7 and Treaty 10. Along with the Treaties in the United States. In total, about 6 million people live within the basin of Winnipeg and benefit from its waters.
Over the last few decades Lake Winnipeg has seen major changes to its biology. The emergence of algae blooms and toxic blue-green algae caused by an excess of nutrients in the water are threatening the livelihood of all people in the region, especially those who live around it and use it as a source for potable water and the abundant harvest it offered. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen are essential for the growth of marine vegetation but now the excess of these nutrients in the water is showing severe adverse effects. The shallow outline of the lake and large volume of inflows from the rivers draining into the lake are major influences on its water quality. The Red River, Saskatchewan River, and Winnipeg River deliver more than 70% of the water entering the lake. The three of them report high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in their streams annually.
Other pressures such as invasive species like the common carp and the zebra mussels have added to the concern for Lake Winnipeg. Due to the size of the watershed, they can travel and spread causing environmental and economic damage.
To find a solution, we must work together. Water is a gift trusted upon us by the Creator to protect it. The Lake Winnipeg Basin extends over 4 provinces and 4 states, and we need to understand what is at stake and how will we protect this gift given to us. Governance of this great resource that gives us life, must come from all, not just a selected few. Indigenous people need a voice at the table too, we need to be heard and we need to listen to!