11/26/2012 01:47 EST | Updated 01/26/2013 05:12 EST

Aboriginal flood evacuees pressure Manitoba, Ottawa to provide new homes

WINNIPEG - Eighteen months after flooding forced them to leave, many members of the Lake St. Martin First Nation are still waiting for new homes and are accusing the federal and provincial governments of stonewalling.

"The government needs to give the community land. We need land," Myrle Ballard told a rally of more than a dozen residents outside the Manitoba legislature Monday.

"The people are suffering. They're depressed. They want to go home for Christmas."

Roughly 2,000 people from six First Nations are still out of their homes after record flooding in May of last year. Most are from Lake St. Martin and have been put up in Winnipeg hotels.

The flooding was due largely to a dam and other structures upstream that diverted rising water away from larger communities. Aboriginal leaders say they took a bullet for Winnipeg and other cities.

The Lake St. Martin reserve is still waterlogged and many homes have mould. The province has offered temporary accommodation on a former military radar base not far away, near Gypsumville, but only a handful of residents have accepted. Some have said the area is overrun with snakes, while others worry they might be stuck there permanently if they agree to go.

There is another site further away from the lake that would be ideal, Ballard said, but the government has yet to agree.

Premier Greg Selinger said he is committed to finding a solution, but the residents, the province and the federal government — which is responsible for First Nations communities — have to agree on a new location. At least two options have been proposed.

"At the end of the day, there has to be an agreement both on what people want and what is practically possible from an engineering and drainage point of view," Selinger said.

All sides are to meet Wednesday, according to a brief email from the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department.

"We look forward to a productive meeting," spokeswoman Ellen Funk wrote.