March 10, 2022

Dr. Myrle Ballard: How Policy Impacts Our Traditional Lands

Dr. Myrle Ballard: How Policy Impacts Our Traditional Lands

Water…we use water form everything from cooking to bathing. There is hardly anything we can do without water. We live in a culture where take perhaps certain things like water for granted.

Water…it’s a good thing right? But what happens from a mental and physical perspective when a human made flood forces people, families, entire communities off their land. In this episode Dr.Myrle Ballard talks about how, as a young girl growing up on Lake St Martin First Nation, she witnessed, through human made flooding, the destruction of her families land where they farmed and kept cattle. She witnessed school buses taking families away from their homes as the human made flood rose higher and higher forcing their evacuation which the families thought might be days or a week. Over 7 years later some families still have not been able to return to their homes. As an Indigenous Scholar and Associate Professor, University of Manitoba, Dr.Myrle Ballard is a proud member of Lake St. Martin First Nation and her research focusses on how policy and legislation impacts traditional lands.

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

Water…we use water form everything from cooking to bathing. There is hardly anything we can do without water. We live in a culture where take perhaps certain things like water for granted.

Water…it’s a good thing right? But what happens from a mental and physical perspective when a human made flood forces people, families, entire communities off their land. In this episode Dr.Myrle Ballard talks about how, as a young girl growing up on Lake St Martin First Nation, she witnessed, through human made flooding, the destruction of her families land where they farmed and kept cattle. She witnessed school buses taking families away from their homes as the human made flood rose higher and higher forcing their evacuation which the families thought might be days or a week. Over 7 years later some families still have not been able to return to their homes. As an Indigenous Scholar and Associate Professor, University of Manitoba, Dr.Myrle Ballard is a proud member of Lake St. Martin First Nation and her research focusses on how policy and legislation impacts traditional lands.

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at


This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights.

Here's your host Stuart Murray.

March 22nd is International Water Day. Water.

We use water for everything from cooking to bathing.

There's hardly anything we can do without water.

We live in a culture where perhaps we take certain things like water for granted water.

It's a good thing, right?

But what happens from a mental and physical perspective when a human made flood forces people, families, entire communities off their land?

Well, my guest today, Dr Myrle Ballard is an assistant professor, an indigenous scholar at the University of Manitoba.

Dr Ballard is a member of Lake ST Martin First Nation in Manitoba which is a signatory to treaty to.

And much of Dr Ballard's research has focused on how policy and legislation impact traditional lands, livelihoods, traditional knowledge systems.

Dr Ballard has worked extensively with flooding and water management.

So we talked about water being an amazing thing and we also see how it can have other effects.

Dr Ballard delighted to have you on humans on rights.


Thank you.

Dr Ballard, you have grown up in Manitoba.

You are a member of Lake ST martin.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood.

What do you remember growing up?

And I want to get to a point where obviously you've earned your PhD and we want to talk about that experience, but take us back a little bit when you were younger and what do you recall growing up as a young girl, growing up in lakes martin.

What I recall was that the abundance of livelihoods on the land, the living off the land, much of my childhood was attending to cattle, feeding them, watering them and those are my chores, daily chores.

And when the cattle or the calves were born in the wintertime, we would bring them inside because that was part of taking care of them and making sure they don't freeze and wildlife or whatever was close by.

So they don't smell them, you know, to eat the newborn calves, but that was part of growing up tending to the cattle and as well to looking after the land, attending.

Hey in late summer fall and making sure there was enough feed for the cattle.

We would be out on the land for days at a time and doing chores, a lot of chores chores, Children that don't do it today.

But that, that was part of my growing up like the physical chores and that's how I was brought up at the livelihood was associated with living off the land and the sustainable livelihoods.

And then growing up, I remember where I grew up was, we had an open field to the lake.

It was a farm field where the cattle grazed and there was hay growing there and then I growing up, I started noticing that most of the families do it, They had a lot of cattle, there was a lot of cattle, we had barns and that my grandfather built big barns towards the lake and there was a machinery scattered throughout the field.

They're going into the lake that was a part of making hay and part of the cattle raising.

So growing up I started noticing that the cattle started the disappearing of people started selling off the cattle and this was gradually, it didn't just happen overnight as well.

Told my mom too she had a lot of cattle, we had a lot of farms, gardens and then growing up and they started disappearing and I noticed that we started having water from the mountains house going to the lake which was about a kilometer, it was not far but we started getting flooded.

I remember seeing the water and we got flooded, meaning that we weren't completely under water, like the water would come probably put 100 ft close to the house and dr Ballard.

Just to put in perspective this is you're talking about is it lake Manitoba lynx and marten, lynx and marten.

I'm talking about the lake itself because there is a community like smart first nation and then the lake itself, lynx and marten which is located in between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg and connected by the favorite river makes martin and then going into dolphin river and going into Lake Winnipeg.

Okay so you're talking about actual lake ST martin.

Okay thank you.

Yeah, the lake proper I guess is the proper way.


Well so we would we would be funny that The lake waters and the waters would be over land flooding and this was caused by the construction of the favourite Dam in the 1961.

So this was a constant flooding and for those that don't know the favorite dam itself, it's a small water control structure, it's small, Probably about 50 ft wide.

It's a man made water control structure where you have to physically lift the logs in order to release the water.

So that's what was happening.

And they were, the province would be releasing the water without consultation and that this destroyed a lot of people's livelihoods because it wasn't something that occurred all at once but it was very gradual and the water would come recede and I'd be okay next summer again it would come and if you constantly flood the land it's going to change over time, like the vegetation started changing.

People had to sell their cattle because there was no where to graze anymore, there was no more land for the cattle and for the hay and through a whole day notice that the vegetation changes and what was normal fields going up to the lake now was all bull rushes, it was all swamp and marsh like when I say swamp and marsh, it's not all but very large.

Um most of the vegetation going up to the lake was now bowler shoes, swampy, very damp.

And then in 2011 was when my community got first displaced, meaning We were displaced against our will.

The entire community was uprooted and given 24 hours to evacuate and I just happened to be there at the time when doing research out there, checking out the molds in the homes and now with dr gerard that we were out there doing research, we happened to be there.

And I remember saying busses at the tail center and people were standing around with overnight bags, like just an overnight bag, thinking that they'd be gone with two or three days maybe a week and the two or three days a week led to more than seven years of being displaced from the land and to this day there's a lot of families still waiting to move back to lake ST martin because there's no houses available for them.

And we have a generation of Children now that we're forced displaced, who never knew the community and returned with their parents into a new community.

These are the Children who were born away from the community who never knew what it was like growing up in the community.

So dr Ballard, can I just ask just to put this in perspective, I mean this is a bit of a throwaway just to understand, but there was a lot of cattle farming as you said, was that for beef purposes or where they beef cattle or is that what you they typically were used for?

Yeah, that was what they were used for.

They were sold for beef and that's where the people got their income from and there were self sufficient.

The building of the Fairford Dam, that was built primarily for what reason?

I just built primarily for the recreational users on the Lake Manitoba side and for the city of Winnipeg a to prevent flooding.

And we all know what happens when there's a flood.

The insurance companies have to pay out and social monetary purposes, economic reasons.

So then just to sort of move forward a bit dr Ballard, you're living in the community and you know, you have all these memories that as you see, water started to encroach more and more towards the various communities, the houses and when people were evacuated when families and communities were evacuated I think, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, dr Ballard, but I believe you said against their will, could they have stayed from your opinion?

I mean would there have been any danger had they stayed if they stayed, everything was cut off.

Hydro was cut off.

The roads were used as stakes, the main road going into the community was used as a as a dyke.

So basically the little infrastructure that was, there was destroyed.

You know, we know in Manitoba there's floods that happen from time to time and you know, we see people who are so passionate about their homes and they are, they put, you know, there's a lot of sandbagging and you know, pumps that are put in to try to make sure that if the dikes get breached that they can pump water out, but that water comes and then it goes in your case dr Ballard was the water basically forcing people out of their homes or was it the fact that hydro was cut off and it just made it impossible to frankly live with conditions.

I just want to get a sense of you know what the evacuation might have looked like.

The people were given 24 hours to evacuate when they're given 24 hours.

Decision makers are involved.

The funders are involved basically.

What happened right away is the community decision makers leadership were given a temporary band office right away, like to alleviate the forest displacement.

Like it just happened because everything was, I was I guess a preplanned, but this was to make it easier for the government, I guess to take easement of the land and now the province is negotiating with uh the three communities for easement of the land, meaning that it wants to regulate the water level.

So it needs land continued land in order to keep the waters at a certain level and to prevent flooding.

So again, I just want to make sure that I get an appreciation because I want to come back to against something you said about that was you know, people thought they might be gone for a weekend or a week or maybe a couple of weeks and it's you're talking seven years when people left in these busses with just bags of, you know, the the minimal amount of personal belongings they could have and got on these yellow school busses was the water at that point?

Was it at the houses, was it looked like it was going to go over the houses?

Was that the reason that they were trying to get people into the busses?

A lot of the water was near the houses that some of the houses were already underwater, but I think for the people to be well and they had to evacuate And I guess that they were predicting more water because they gave them 24 hours notice to evacuate, you have to be out of here 24 hours and so dr Ballard at that time when that was happening.

Where were you in your academic career or what were you studying or what was happening to you personally when they were forcing people off of Lake ST martin.

This was 2011 and I was wrapping up my PhD and doing the last of the because I do a lot of photography as well videos.

So I was going around and taking pictures at that time when I was with a videographer as well too, when I was out there, because we had cameras in hand and taking pictures of everything that was going on.

That was in 2011, May eight, I believe.

It's been a while, But I graduated, it is with my PhD in 2012.

So that was a year later, but I had a lot of information now, the work I was doing, I never thought that that would be part of the overall the results that I would be analyzing.


And so what got you interested in, you know, the study of water management?

Was it simply because you saw what was happening as a young girl, what was going on in your community?

Yeah, it was experiential like experiencing what was happening and seeing the changes firsthand before my eyes of people that were well off and the ability to look after themselves, going downhill where they couldn't look after themselves, where they had to sell their cattle and other landscape changing.

We used to have a big family gardens as well.

We used to have community gardens and throughout the years nobody had gardens because there was simply no place to plant the garden anymore.

And that was happening year after year after year, the encroachment happened.

I mean, it wasn't sort of that it came to a point and then it receded and it came back.

It just continually started to encroach on the community.


When I did my masters and my masters to was about water management.

And I remember interviewing the people getting them to share their knowledge of the land and the oral histories, the oral tradition of the people's because that's where you get a lot of information from.

And then you start to link their knowledge with what's happening currently.

Some of the stories that were shared with me was about this farmer who had so many cattle that the person and describing says I could look out in the field and you see big islands look like black islands throughout the field.

Those were the cattle as he had so much cattle.

And again, just because of the situation, those cattle presumably are no longer around and they were forced off because of the of the flood.


And another thing too is lakes and martin.

If you look at the map of lakes and martin, I don't know if you ever look at the map of lakes and martin and there's a north basin in the south basin.

And there's a part where we call the narrows, that's where the south basin flows through the narrows to the north basin.

A lot of the people that I talked to talked about going over the narrows at that point from the north side where the people live to go to the south side during the summer and that's where they took their cattle for the summer and they used to walk over.

That's how shallow it was like shallow enough to walk over without grounding.

And now you can't even walk over it because of the change in the water.

The water management has changed because of man's interference with the water system.

So today, dr Ballard, what is happening in that community today?

If you take us there just because you're a videographer and a photographer.

If you were to take a video or to take a photograph, what would that look like today, share that image.

If I would have known, I would have shared a picture because I have a lot of pictures, but we take a lot of drone images as well.

I did comparisons of images from the 1950s to the present Of satellite image and aerial photography, where I showed that weight was back in the 1950s to the way it is now and that you could see that water has really encroached versus the way it was before because of the man made that the alteration of the flood.

And if you go there now, the entire community has been relocated, unilateral decision making has been relocated, probably, I would say one or a couple of miles from the old community and when they started construction of the new community, they had to drain the land, meaning that there's water.

When you look at the the aerial images of the landscape, but you see dead spots dispersed throughout the landscape and that's where they built a new community.

The traditional knowledge of the people know that those tree stands are eroding from underneath because there's too much water, the roots are rotting, so they're all dead.

And then you can see these dead stands, this person through it and that's where they relocated the new community.

And what they did was the new community is not really allowed to expand because of the way it's built.

They have a mode all around the north and south side of the communities, which is divided in half by a provincial highway 5 13, which was into dolphin ever so on half of the community south one half of the communities north.

And there's a lot of environmental factors associated with that because Children crossing, there's always that's a busy highway and it's very dusty and there's a lot of things associated with it.


And I think that, you know, kind of brings us to what I was saying at the top of this program that, you know, water of course is such a necessity in so many many ways.

But I wanted to specifically have you on dr Ballard because of your research and your personal involvement.

And I'd like to ask you personally share your personal thoughts, not your academic research, but your personal thoughts of what that experience is like to have a community forced to evacuate and go through a period that they're resettling them in the, in an urban setting, not knowing when they're going to go back to their homeland for their homes.

What is that experience like from your perspective, it's very hard to talk about it when I used to talk about it at first I used to cry, but I think I'm getting a little bit more resilient, that thick skin, whatever you want to say.

But I've experienced firsthand, I've seen firsthand what people are destroyed.

There's been so many deaths.

People were healthy and the next minute that they were for being buried.

Seeing my mom spend two or three years in a hotel room by herself because she wanted to be close to the community and seeing her little piece of stuff that she took from her home, piled up in the corner.

It's very hard.

I lost my auntie, my uncle's a lot of relatives because of her being displaced.

It's very hard and seeing uh the toll it took on the people, There's a lot of anger in the people.

People are angry of what happened because they were taken from their homes where they were comfortable and they had big yards.

They didn't have to worry about neighbors.

And now the new communities like a town setting, like a little town where you have neighbors across the street and there's no privacy and there's a lot of social problems because of the people that were displaced.

There's a lot of things that happened, experiencing that firsthand as seeing what's what happened and very hard.

Yeah, that's tough.

And and dr Ballard again, thank you for sharing.

And I and I apologize if I, you know, triggered anything, it wasn't my intention.

I really just want to get your perspective, both as a human who has gone through something this tragic that has caused you to become an expert and get your PhD you first, your Masters and then of course your PhD to really understand and explain this.

And the one thing I wondered maybe you could share a little bit is when we talked earlier, you referenced me and I hope I'm going to say this properly.

I went to a website to talk about mental y Owen in Iowa, Okay, thank you.

Dr Ballard tell us a little bit about that project and your involvement in that project and how you got involved in that project.

They did this project in collaboration with the intellect reserves at tribal council, Where I was the facilitator of a workshop.

I think there was more than 100 people, maybe 200 elders involved and we broke them up into different groups and part of that involved me doing interviews with a few people, giving them a five minutes.

I said tell me, what do you want to tell me about the Flood, How it's impacted you and those other interviews that are on my website, a lot of them were initially Albanian and english and some of them are just in english and a few of them are just initial album win and they talked about their emotions, what they saw, what they went through and I think if you are a language speaker it would really hit home.

But they talked about what they experienced with being forced displaced and what happened when the of the channel was built and to this day the of the channels still has a lot of impact and they're proposing another out the channel by the way to go into Lake Manitoba into the South Basin, extreme South Bay.

And again, the people don't want this because once this happens it will affect the ecosystem.

It will have a lot of environmental, negative impact.

It's going to affect spawning grounds and the natural springs in the area.

The various channels that are connected to the natural channels that are connected within the South basin and it's going to ultimately make the narrows which I described even larger and they're going into the North Basin where a lot of the fish spawn and it's going to go into sturgeon Bay and from there it's going to damage the land and the waters.

And one of the things dr Ballard that you talked about was you sat with some of the elders and you know, recorded their feelings of what they went through their experience of dealing with the flood?

What was the outcome of that?

Was there a guide?

Did you produce something that helped on, you know, to do with traditional healing and if that's what you did, can you speak to that please?

I recently got awarded a grant, a five year grant from Canadian institutes for health research.

That's over $2 million.

So I'll be starting that with lynx and marten because I felt as a researcher, I go there and ask them what they want and I didn't want to leave them and I felt very strongly to help them.

So what they want is the youth want that the elders had to mentor them about relearning about the land and the experience of part of the cultural or traditional learning about the land, because that's how they feel, they will heal.

And is there a chance dr Ballard that there's going to be history repeats here, where the water is going to encroach on the new community as it's been established, that there is a potential danger that that might be something they have to relive or is there a sense that the elders can teach the youth about traditional values of the land because it's going to be there for the foreseeable future.

The elders will be mentoring the land, The youth and hopefully the youth will rise up and take stands from being further flooded, but the way the new community is built right now and they have a direct link channel that goes from the new community directly into the lake, so that should hopefully, you know, mitigate any further damage.

I guess it remains to be seen right?

And dr Ballard this isn't necessarily party of research, but because you study water and water management, We have in, I'd say the province of Manitoba in this year 2022 experienced a tremendous amount of snow and the big issue is where to put the snow.

So one of the things Dr Ballard is that there's always a sense because there's a lot of agriculture and your community was part of it and when you were raising cattle, That a lot of agriculture suffers when there's droughts, when it's dry in the lead up to the spring two seating and I think we had a pretty tough year in 2021.

So now in 2022 we have all of this snow that seems to be sitting around from your perspective, you know, and I know you don't study flooding, I understand in the bigger picture, what would you say that, are you concerned at all when you see the amount of snow that is here in terms of the I'll just say the negative impact for some, it may have positive in terms of providing moisture for crops etcetera.

But can you see the amount of snow here having any negative impact throughout the communities in Manitoba, it will have a negative impact because there's a chance of flooding again.

But that's the same time, the decision makers and all the stakeholders, the parties involved, including the indigenous people.

So they have to come together and they have to decide where the excess water is going to go.

It shouldn't be going to the indigenous communities because we have the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people saying that you cannot force displace indigenous people anymore.

You can't do that right?

So fingers crossed, I mean, uh and hopefully that there's a strategic plan that helps to mitigate that issue for sure, dr Ballard.

What impact does when you look at water management from some of the issues that you've looked at from your studies, both for your masters and your PhD talk a little bit about the issue of boil water orders that happen on so many of our First nations reserves.

Yeah, the boiled water is a constant issue.

And again, that stems from a colonization because of people's abilities that look after themselves were taken away and taking away that ability that matters well.

When you take that away and you take away on the person's ability to attend for him herself and you take away that inherent will to live.

When the government decides, I'm going to look after people, I'm going to give them something to eat.

Giving them something to eat is a welfare check once a month and ultimately doing that destroys the people's ability to look after themselves, where they lived off the land.

Once that they could look after themselves because they knew a proper hunting, harvesting, gathering, fishing, everything, and they could look after themselves when they were out on the land, they didn't need water bottles to be out on the land because they knew where to get water from.

They never took water with them when they were on the land, wherever they set camp, they knew exactly how to get the water and that, that was, that's how they traveled.

They just had to dig a hole in the ground because of their knowledge systems that they had, they knew exactly where the source of water was so dr Ballard when you were growing up on lake ST martin, first nation, did you have a boil water order?

Do you recall that as a young girl growing up in that we never had any boiled water advisories.

We didn't have running water.

Our water was taken from the well, we got our water with tail, pumped the water into the pail, put it into the big barrel, and that's so and then we filled the big barrel into the house.

That's how we got our water.

We never had any boiled water advisory.

We drank the water with a dipper direct from the barrel and we never got sick and just in case I should have said this at the beginning.

When I asked you about the uh, the boil water advisories for those that may be listening explain what is a boil water advisory and what impact does that have on a community boiled water advisory comes from the government orders a boil water advisory when the water is contaminated and do not fit for drinking.

So why these are happening these days is because a lot of homes in first nation communities, a lot of them don't have piped water.

They don't have a water system where they can just turn on top like the city of Winnipeg where it has a water treatment plant.

And from there they have a pipe underground where the water photos.

So a lot of these communities have a cistern and these assistants are filled up once a week depending on a lot of the communities by a water truck.

And that's how they get the water.

Some of them still rely on pumps as well to get the water.

But basically what happens is the water gets gets contaminated because a lot of these assistance to, they're not maintained properly because of lack of infrastructure.

They don't have the human capacity.

A lot of these communities are chronically underfunded and the list goes on and on, it's a vicious cycle and they don't have a proper water treatment plants.

They don't have capacity.

They don't have trained people to look after them and the water gets contaminated and a lot of the homes to their crowded, there's a shortage of houses and just uh chronic underfunding.

And it's all about the social determinants of our well being.

And so dr Ballard, I was really when I read a bit about what you were doing and what you had done, I was most interested in having you on, because I started off by talking about the importance of water and how much we appreciate it and maybe take it for granted.

And I think your perspective has been very, very valuable and you know, the emotional and physical and you talk about some of those some of those issues, if I could ask you just, you know, as we sort of come to a conclusion here, Dr Ballard, what's your hope for what you're going to try to do with your study that you're going to be working on, what's the hope of what you would like that study to do for the future generations.

This is community led, it was a community that identified what they needed and that's what I'm going on.

It's not what I think it's what they want to heal.

And the youth really want to learn about the language they want to learn about the ways of the land, that the traditional ways, that's what they want to learn, that they want to go back to the land, because when you get taken away from the land, you start to suffer everything when a year outside that you get to breathe in the natural medicines that are coming from the trees and the natural medicines that are coming from the soil, the ground that leaves everything's so that's part of the healing process.

They want to experience that and you're going to be in essence facilitating that with your study and all of Yeah, that sounds pretty interesting and obviously very necessary and I wish you all the very best in that dr Ballard.

I thank you for your personal reflection, your professional reflection today and it has been as always, I find an opportunity to learn when you listen to somebody with your lived experience in your professional experience.

I just want to say thank you very much for spending some time with me on on this podcast.

Humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray social media marketing by the creative team at full current in Winnipeg.

Thanks also to trick seem a bit you in music by Doug Edmund for more, go to human rights hub dot C A produced and distributed by the sound off media company.

What happens when we play outside?

We become healthier, both mentally and physically we become more creative and more focused.

We connect with nature each other and ourselves.

Let's take this outside a new podcast hosted by me mary ann Iverson, an aspiring outdoor athlete and nature lover, I speak to athletes.

Outdoor professionals and scientists about their connection to nature, how it affects their performance and everyday life.

Let's take this outside available on apple podcasts.

Spotify and google podcasts and at Iverson voice dot com slash podcast.